Previously regarded as an autograph work by David, Hans van Miegroet questioned the attribution in his 1989 monograph and catalogue raisonné of David's works (loc. cit.). The composition is, however, certainly indebted to David: the hieratic image of the enthroned Madonna - the Byzantine Hodegetria, traditionally thought to derive from Saint Luke - comes out of prototype evolved by Van Eyck in such images as the Dresden triptych or the Madonna Van de Paele, but it was David who first combined that image with a landscape setting - in, for example, the Rest on the Flight into Egypt in the Prado, Madrid, or the eponymous painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
The Virgin and Child are separated from the background landscape by a wall, a depiction of the hortus conclusus that alludes to the phrase from the Song of Songs: 'A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse'. The Virgin holds a rose, as in the Deipara Virgo in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, referring to her well-known epithet 'rose without thorns'. The figures in the background, depicting Saints Francis of Assisi and Jonh the Baptist, are an unusual combination that recur in David's early Nativity triptych in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Particularly interesting is the tower in the distance, a topographical reference to the Church of Our Lady in Bruges.
Although no longer accepted as a fully autograph David, the painting is of high quality. Stylistically, it corresponds with a group of works that all owe closely to David, and that have been suggested as representing the early work of Adriaen Isenbrandt, who is known to have worked in David's studio.
Edward Solly made a fortune during the Napoleonic wars from his family's enormous timber importing business based in Saint Mary Axe in London. Around 1811 he seems to have quite suddenly developed a passion for collecting art and, in the following nine years, he amassed the largest private collection of pictures formed in the nineteeth century, consisting of no less than 3,000 works. Having fallen into financial difficulties, Solly offered the collection to the Prussian state, which purchased it in 1821. A substantial part of the pictures went on public display when the Royal Gallery of Berlin opened in 1830. The paintings were then transferred to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in 1904, and form the basis of the Berlin collections today. Solly subsequently formed in London a second, smaller collection consisting almost exclusively of sixteenth-century Italian pictures, including such works as Crivelli's Annunciation and Lorenzo Lotto's Portrait of a family, both now in the National Gallery.