The title of this work in older literature is Madonna in stellis or Maria in stellis. It was transferred to the National Gallery from the National Museum in 1934 under the title Mary with the Infant Jesus and John. The inventory of the National Gallery lists the work under the title Mary with Jesus and John the Baptist.
In 1894, Alojz Gangl set himself the task of creating a religious marble relief of the Madonna in stellis. He made the sculpture in Vienna and explained to the poet Anton Aškerc: “With this religious statue, I wanted to demonstrate that a sculptor who had hitherto been interested only in secular themes could also create a work of religious nature. [...] By setting this relief in the religious domain, I also wanted to show to those who make decisions, for example our heads of church, that a Slovenian artist can also create a religious statue, and that there is no need to commission such works from abroad.” Gangl’s work was received with much praise. Immediately after it was made, a poet Josip Stritar called on Slovenian patrons to buy the marble sculpture.
It depicts the Virgin Mary with child in her arms and the boy John the Baptist embracing her with his right arm. The boy is offering a cross and a leaf with the inscription Ecce agnus Dei to Child Jesus, onto which he and Mary have fixed their gaze. The scene is surrounded by a wreath of stars, after which the sculpture takes its name.
The relief, especially the modelling of Mary’s facial features, clearly draw on Renaissance ideals of composition and beauty, specifically on Raphael’s painting Mary with the Child, a copy of which Gangl owned.