In 1549 Pellegrino Tibaldi went to Rome where his first recorded payment was for work connected with the funeral of Pope Paul III. His relatively short period in the city had a seminal effect on his artistic development as he moved away from the rather timid Bolognese classicism of Bagnocavallo and came into contact with Perino del Vaga (in whose studio he may have worked for a while), Daniele da Volterra, and above all, the work of Michelangelo. When, probably around 1551, he returned to Bologna, to start work on his masterpiece, the decoration of the Palazzo Poggi, it was to Michelangelo, and in particular the Sistine Chapel Ignudi that he turned for inspiration. The style which he developed, a forceful, full-blooded, but nonetheless humorous Mannerism, led Ferdinando Bologna (1956) to describe him as “un autentico Michelangelo dell’umoresco”. The Palazzo Poggi frescoes are one of the most impressive achievements of later Italian Mannerism and it is largely upon these that his fame rests as arguably the most gifted mid-16th-century exponent of the maniera style outside Venice. It is to this period of the Palazzo Poggi frescoes or shortly afterwards that the present powerfully conceived Madonna and Child must be assigned.
Before the war the painting was in a private collection in Berlin where it was first identified by Hermann Voss as being by Tibaldi. Voss later confirmed this attribution in a certificate dated 9 August 1926 in which he wrote that this Madonna and Child was “the prototype of a frequently varied composition of which there was a more elaborate version in the collection of the King of Romania [now in Bucharest], falsely attributed to Dosso Dossi. A connected drawing attributed to ‘Ruggeri’ in the Städel Institut, Frankfurt, is the original of the expressive composition by the Bolognese, Pellegrino Tibaldi, illustrated here, which I do not hesitate also for reasons of its colouring and technique to assign to him”.