Niclaus Gerhaert, a seminal artist of the generation preceding Albrecht Dürer's, was born in Leiden and was active in Strasbourg and Vienna as well as several cities in between. Only three signed works are known, and a mere four others, including this sculpture, have been seriously thought to be by Gerhaert's hand.
This statuette expresses a combined sense of drama, monumentality, and elegance through the extraordinarily accomplished carving of the fine-grained wood. Among the naturalistic details that subtly enhance the total form is the delicate manner in which the Virgin's fingertips press into the chubby flesh of the child. Intended as an object of private devotion and continuing a long tradition in the use of boxwood for this purpose, it may well have been commissioned by a member of the imperial court in Vienna. The dark base with the fictive Dürer monogram and date on the back is from the nineteenth century. Both arms of the child and the section of drapery held in his left hand must date from this period as well.