The Madonna of Foligno, found today in the Vatican Pinacoteca, and the Sistine Madonna, conserved in Dresden, Saxony (Germany), were produced almost at the same time by Raphael.
In 1511 Sigismondo de' Conti, private and later political secretary to Pope Julius II, commissioned the artist to create a new altarpiece for Santa Maria in Aracoeli. At the same time, the Pope asked Raphael to paint the Sistine Madonna for the church of Saint Sixtus in Piacenza. It is most likely that both paintings could be found literally side by side in the same workshop in Urbino. Both works show the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the Christ child. In the Madonna of Foligno, the Blessed Mother is depicted just as she is described in the Golden Legend recounting the vision of the emperor Augustus on Christmas day. Saints Francis, John the Baptist and Jerome, Doctor of the Church, participate in this transcendental experience, together with the donor himself, Sigismondo de' Conti. The Sistine Madonna instead is accompanied with Saints Sixtus and Barbara. The two masterpieces by Raphael were first displayed in Foligno and Piacenza, were they never drew many visitors. Later the paintings were moved, on to the papal court and the other to the residence of the main elector of the court of Saxony. They both became icons of Western culture. Even the little angels at the foot of the Virgins, perhaps the most famous in the world, as good brothers, seem to emphasize their closeness.