Hébert was yet another of the artists working in the orbit of Paul Delaroche whose name fell into relative obscurity in the last century. He was, in fact, like Delaroche, one of the most highly regarded and decorated painters of his generation, winning medals at several "Expositions Universelles" (World's Fairs). He received the Grande Croix of the Legion of Honor in 1903.
This is a variant based on a large-scale altarpiece that Hébert painted in time for the Salon of 1872 and that was finally installed in the church of his native town, La Tronche, the following year. Unlike the original altarpiece, which has a patterned background, this version is stylized to recall the conventions of Byzantine icons. The gold ground, raised haloes and Greek letters-mu, rho, theta, and upsilon: the abbreviation of "Maria Theotokos" (Mary God-bearer), often found in Byzantine mosaics-lend the painting a schematic flatness that contrasts dramatically with the otherwise convincingly three-dimensional figures.