Murillo's Madonna of the Rosary adorned the sacristy of the monastery of Carmen Calzado in Seville for over 150 years. The life-sized figure of the Virgin Mary sits with the infant Christ in Her lap, who looks out towards the viewer holding the rosary in His hands. The image was especially popular during the Baroque era, after Pope Pius V instituted the Feast of the Rosary in 1571 in commemoration of the Battle of Lepanto.
Comparison with the many other versions of the same theme, for example with Luca Giordano's painting in Naples, illustrates where Murillo wanted to place the focus in his work. Whereas in Giordano's piece, the Virgin presents a rosary to a monk, who gazes intently at the gift, in Murillo's work it is the observer who takes on the role of the monk, since the painting was created for a Carmelite monastery. The inhabitants of the monastery saw the work each day in the sacristy and thus received the rosary from the Virgin Mary, who looked out at them from the painting. The viewer is invited to enter into an intimate dialogue with the Madonna and Christ, and it was presumably this intimacy and immediacy of representation that attracted the early English owner to the painting.