Austrian by birth, Alemanno worked for the majority of his career in Ascoli Piceno, where he is first recorded in 1477. Stylistically his known oeuvre displays the influence of his master, Carlo Crivelli, whose style of the 1470s he closely emulated. Alemanno produced mostly polyptychs with the Virgin and Child enthroned, framed by standing saints on separate panels, or small-scale, half-length Virgin and Child pictures, ultimately deriving in form from similar compositions by Donatello; the present panel is an example of a central panel from the former type, comparable, for example, to works such as the Virgin and Child with Saints Sebastian and Luke in the Pinacoteca Civica, Montefortino.
Joseph Fesch was the half-brother of Letizia Ramolino Bonaparte (1750-1836), mother of the future Emperor Napoleon I, to whom Fesch was close in age. From the mid-1790s to his death in 1839 he formed one of the largest private collections of paintings of the 19th century. His love of art seems to have developed during Napoleon's campaigns in Italy (1796-8), when Fesch became, through his nephew's offices, a supplier to the French army: indeed, his first acquisitions were given to him by a terrified Grand Duke Ferdinand III of Tuscany. It was after his return to Paris in 1800, however, that he began to acquire paintings at an extraordinary rate. In 1802 he was made Archbishop of Lyons and then Cardinal of S Lorenzo-in-Lucina; from 1803 to 1806 he was French Ambassador in Rome, and on his return to Paris in 1806 was appointed Grand Almoner of France. He used his considerable income to augment his collection, taking advantage of the dispersal of a number of other collections to acquire French, Dutch and Flemish paintings, as well as Italian works from some of the great Roman patrician families. In 1812, however, he quarrelled with the Emperor about his loyalty to Pius VII and lost his position, retiring to his diocese in Lyons before settling in August 1815 in Rome, where he led the life of an exile of limited resources, dividing his time between pious activities and the search for new paintings.
According to the inventory drawn up at his death, Fesch's collection comprised nearly 16,000 works. His residence in Rome was the Palazzo Falconieri in the Via Giulia, where he displayed his finest pieces. These included such masterpieces as Giorgione's Allendale Nativity (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art), Giotto's Dormition of the Virgin, Fra Angelico's Last Judgement, Rembrandt's Predication of the Baptist (all Berlin, Gemäldegalerie), Poussin's Dance to the Music of Time, Metsu's Sleeping Hunter, Hobbema's Stormy Landscape, Adriaen van de Velde's Departure of Jacob, Watteau's Fête in a Park and Halt during the Chase (all London, Wallace Collection), Mantegna's Agony in the Garden, a Raphael Crucifixion, Foppa's Adoration of the Magi and Ercole de' Roberti's Israelites Gathering Manna (all London, National Gallery), Carpaccio's Hunting on the Lagoon and Pontormo's Portrait of a Halberdier (both Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum). The Cardinal's own portrait was sculpted by Antonio Canova in 1807-8 (Ajaccio, Musée Fesch).
The Rev. Walter Davenport Bromley acquired several works at the posthumous sales of Fesch's collection in the 1840s, including Giotto's Dormition (Berlin), Foppa's Adoration (London, National Gallery) and presumably the present work. He had inherited Wootton Hall, Staffordshire in 1822 and first visited Italy in that year; by the 1840s he had formed a collection of considerable range and distinction, securing many key works at auction at Christie's and elsewhere. The masterpieces he owned included, amongst others, Bellini's Agony in the Garden (London, National Gallery). Gustav Waagen, on recording his visit to Wootton (op. cit., p. 371), wrote of him that 'Mr. Davenport Bromley is an ardent admirer of all such pictures, be they of the 13th or 16th century, in which an unaffected and genuine feeling is expressed. I found, accordingly, in his house a number of works, chiefly altarpieces, illustrating the Italian schools from their first rise in the 13th century to their highest development in the 16th, such as I have not yet met with ... in any other gallery in England.'