When the sculptures adorning public spaces in Renaissance Florence were commissioned, the artist was often selected by an open competition. The participants had to make a model sculpture from clay or wax, which was judged by a jury consisting of artists, town aldermen, or delegates from aristocratic families. This small-scale sculpture by Jacopo Sansovino was made for just such a competition.
Around 1510-11 it was planned to erect a marble statue of the Madonna on the facade of the market Mercato Nuovo, and Sansovino entered the competition with this wax model. Because wax is highly malleable, it was particularly suitable for making models: if the artist wished to alter the form, he simply had to warm it, and he could add or remove the material as he pleased. One unusual technical feature of the statue is that the bodies of the two figures are not supported by an armature. They were so cleverly composed by Sansovino, who was both a sculptor and an architect, that they support one another with their own weight. The artist dipped the drapery serving as the Virgin's attire in glue and coated it with a layer of wax of varying thickness, then covered the surface of the entire statue in gold.
Although this maquette won Sansovino the competition, the commission went not to him, but to a rival with political connections, Baccio Bandinelli. Sansovino's winning entry must then have passed to one of his painter friends, Andrea del Sarto, who used it as a model for two works.