Along with the painting 'The Magdalen Reading' (The National Gallery, London), both of these fragments formed part of an altarpiece that was dismantled for unknown reasons. The whole, which can be seen in a drawing entitled 'The Virgin and the Child and Saints' (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm), is believed to have been one of the main works produced by Rogier van der Weyden in the earliest phase of his career as an independent artist.
It has been suggested that the female figure is Saint Catherine of Alexandria since the sumptuousness of her clothes chimes with traditional representations of the saint. Moreover, the work reflects the master’s delightful colourist inclinations. Another fragment depicts the figure of Saint Joseph, imbued with an use of colour rarely found in representations of the time.
In the mid-ground, the Gothic architecture helps to create the sense of perspective. The landscape in the background, which is bathed in light and precisely depicted in the two panels, develops the depth of the space and creates the sense of a real environment in accordance with the innovative artistic concepts of the early Flemish masters.
The scheme of the composition is therefore consistent with the symmetry characteristic of Rogier van der Weyden and it seems reasonable to suppose that the original altarpiece featured six figures that were alternately shown standing and either kneeling or seated around the Virgin and Child.