This hitherto unpublished panel from 1546 was executed soon after Frans Floris's return to Antwerp following a sojourn of some four years in Italy. Floris travelled to Italy as a young man as early as 1541 or 1542. In Rome, he became a prominent member of the Netherlandish community making copies after antique sculpture and contemporary Italian paintings, including Michelangelo's work in the Sistine chapel (the Last Judgement was unveiled in 1541). He is also known to have visited other Italian cities such as Mantua, where he studied Giulio Romano's frescoes in the Palazzo Ducale and the Palazzo del Tè, and Genoa, where he is likely to have seen Perino del Vaga's frescoes in the Palazzo Doria. His only surviving painting executed in Italy is a triptych of Saint Margaret, of 1643, commissioned by the del Bene family for the church of S. Margherita Ligure, near Genoa (see C. van de Velde, Frans Floris - Leven en Werken, Brussels, 1975, I, p. 151, no. 1, pl. 1).
Floris is first recorded back in Antwerp on 29 October 1547, the date of his wedding to Clara Boudewijns. Although Friedländer discusses the possibility that he was still in Italy in 1547 (Early Netherlandish Painting, Brussels and Leiden, 1975, XIII, p. 35), it seems more likely that he departed late in 1545 or 1546. Other than the Genoese triptych, this is the earliest known dated work by the artist and must be one of his first easel paintings executed in his native city before he had established a studio (the oak support would appear largely to rule out the possibility that the picture was painted while he was still on Italian soil). The picture is nonetheless indebted to his Italian education; the overall structure is reminiscent of contemporary Lombard painting and the monumental figure types clearly evoke the work of Michelangelo and Giulio Romano. The background is also Italianised with the inclusion of a distinctive pedestal for a column (for which presumably there is a direct, as yet unidentified, source), and the terracotta slated roof of a church (?) behind. The design of the vase in the immediate left foreground closely resembles a sketch by Giulio Romano for a vase intended for Ercole Gonzaga, with which Floris may have been familiar, in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. no. E5129-1910).
The composition was later adapted by Floris for a Holy Family datable to 1553-4 in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich (inv. no. 1945; see C. van de Velde, op. cit., p. 195, no. 46, pl. 15). In that picture, the format is broadened to include the figures of Saint Anne and Saint Elizabeth. The Italianate background is eliminated, the grapes removed from the foreground ledge and the Infant Baptist stripped of his floral wreath, all combining to give the picture a more northern character.