For a period in the mid-1490s, Milanese artist Marco d'Oggiono shared a house in Milan with Leonardo da Vinci, who was working for the great arts patron Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. Although some books assume that Marco was Leonardo's student, others state that he was master of his own workshop.
In Milan, Marco made a close study of several of Leonardo's works. If we compare Auckland's Madonna and Child, painted about 1490, we can see that d'Oggiono must also have studied Leonardo's portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, called Lady with an Ermine, c1490, which depicts the young mistress of the Milanese Duke Ludovico il Moro. Cecilia’s right hand, which lightly clasps a white ermine or stoat, the emblem or heraldic symbol of Ludovico, has been copied and then reversed in Marco's painting. He has also imitated Leonardo's invention of aerial perspective, where colours become lighter and less clear as they recede.
Marco was also familiar with a range of other art practices, because the red curtain behind the Virgin can be found in the work of Venetian artists such as the Bellini family, and is also present in paintings from Flanders and the Netherlands.
There is a strong emphasis on the ledge or parapet on which the child rests. He is cushioned slightly by the folds on his mother’s gold-lined cloak, which falls over the edge towards us. This was a conscious device introduced by artists at this time to 'lead' us from our own space and time into the eternal space of the divine. Unlike earlier religious works, however, the landscape we can see through the window makes specific reference to the rolling hills and plains of late 15th-century Italy. The child himself faces us, actively twisting his body, drawing our attention to the exposed breast of his mother. This gesture indicates not only the literal nourishment he relies on as an infant, but also his mother's symbolic role as Madonna del Latte, the Mother Church who gives spiritual sustenance to the faithful.