The painting, dated and signed by the Roman Giuseppe Pesce, was done in 1757 on behalf of Raimondo di Sangro, who donated it to King Charles. This Madonna and Child was lost without trace for centuries, until in 2005 the current owners of the Sansevero Chapel tracked it down and purchased it for display in the Sacristy.
Pesce, an artist who distinguished himself in Naples with a number of frescoes in the Church of Santa Chiara (destroyed during the 1943 bombings), produced an example of excellent workmanship, using paints made by di Sangro himself. The overall composition is in classical style, presumably due to the Roman origin of the painter. Particularly noteworthy is the brightness of the range of colours, due to the use of wax in the paint, which gives the surface the brilliant and smooth surface of a miniature.
On the back is Raimondo di Sangro’s dedication, which emphasises his own role as “first inventor” of the tempera and wax technique. It reads: “To the most August Charles, King of the Two Sicilies and Jerusalem, Infante of Spain, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, Great Hereditary Prince of Tuscany, illustrious protector of the fine Arts, his Lord, Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero, first inventor of the tempera and wax colour technique, donates, dedicates and consecrates this first exemplar”.
The picture, which the King kept in his apartments, is also mentioned by the anonymous author of the Short note on what can be seen in the house of the Prince of Sansevero (1766), who describes it as a “painting with coloured wax in a fairer and more beautiful manner than that already invented by the Comte de Caylus of Paris”. The Madonna and Child is an example of the unusual relationship the Prince of Sansevero had with his artists: not simply a commission, but an actual collaboration, which in a number of cases led the artists to make use of the inventions of their patron.