Sassoferrato’s moving devotional works are characterized by their stunning palette and soft, almost ethereal modeling, leaving no question as to the divine nature of their subjects. Many of his most celebrated paintings are adaptions of the works of earlier masters: some, for instance, are based on works by Renaissance painters such as Raphael, while others look to later Bolognese artists including Guido Reni, Annibale Carracci, and Francesco Albani. The scope of Sassoferrato’s influences in fact extended beyond Italy—he is known to have produced paintings inspired by works by Joos van Cleve and Albrecht Dürer as well. By reworking these well-known compositions, Sassoferrato created some of the most effective religious imagery of the seventeenth century.
This representation of the Madonna at Prayer is compositionally linked to the magnificent drawing in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, inv. no. 6053 (fig. 1; see A. Blunt & H.L. Cooke, Roman Drawings at Windsor Castle, 1960, no. 877, p. 103, pl. 31; F. Macé de Lépanay, loc. cit.). The Queen's drawing, in turn, appears to have served as a preparatory drawing for The Madonna adoring the Infant Christ in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt. A bust-length version, again representing the Madonna on her own, was formerly in the collection of Federico Zeri (see F. Macé de Lépanay, op. cit., pp. 106-107, no. 2). Ultimately, Sassoferrato seems to have based the devout pose of the Madonna on Albrecht Dürer's Virgin at Prayer in Dresden.