Ingres’s original version of The Virgin Adoring the Host was produced on commission for the future Czar Alexander II of Russia. Its subject, apparently unprecedented in the history of art, was met with some confusion by critics, who mostly overlooked the painting’s iconography, supposing it represent a miraculous visitation, or actual event in the life of the Virgin. In fact, Ingres was probably referring to Raphael’s 1513 Madonna of the Candelabra, replacing the figure of the infant Jesus with that of the host — an innovation poorly-suited to Russia, where the Orthodox Church does not make use of Eucharistic wafers.
In spite of its cool reception in Moscow, however, Ingres repeated the motif in a number of related works. In this version, presented to his friend Louise Marcotte, the Russian Saints Alexander and Nicholas are replaced by the French Saints Helen and Louis.