We are grateful to Everett Fahy for proposing the attribution after examining the picture in the original. We are also very grateful to Sylvie Béguin and Mario Di Giampaolo, who have both independently confirmed the attribution to Penni; Béguin has subsequently published the present picture (loc. cit.).
According to Orlandi (Abecedario pittorico, Bologna, 1704, p. 298), the artist was a pupil of Raphael in Rome. In 1528 he assisted his brother-in-law, Perino del Vaga, in the decoration of the Palazzo Doria, Genoa. He moved to Paris in circa 1530 and from 1538 to 1547/8 he worked with Rosso Fiorentino and Primaticcio at Fontainebleau. From circa 1544 he executed designs for engravers, including Leon Davent, Etienne Delaune and Giorgio Ghisi: for example Ghisi's Allegory of Birth and Calumny of Apelles. His designs were widely reproduced by engravers in France, Italy and Flanders.
Although no signed painting survives, Penni's documented works include portraits and religious subjects. Among those paintings attributed to him is the ?Justice of Otto (Musée du Louvre, Paris), a composition comparable to his Calumny of Apelles for Giorgio Ghisi. He also produced designs for tapestries, and his drawings of the Story of Diana (Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris; Musée du Louvre, Paris; and Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen) may have served as models for a set of tapestries of Diana and Orion (Anet, Château; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen) produced for King Henry II of France.
Sir Robert Strange, Jacobite and engraver, when in Italy in the 1760s assembled a considerable collection of pictures: after a successful sale in these Rooms, 9 February 1771, he formed a further collection which was less profitably sold in 1775. Two Madonnas given to Raphael, including the present work, were included in the 1771 sale.