Rossetti began work on this painting in 1850. He intended it to be a much larger picture, based on a poem by Robert Browning (1812-1889). He later abandoned the composition and cut the canvas up, preserving only the present fragment.
The woman in the painting was originally shown reading a book of Italian poetry. Rossetti later added the little girl and the statuette of the virgin and child to make a sentimental image of family piety.