Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres made this drawing either as a preparatory sketch or as a presentation drawing for a commission that he accepted in 1815 because he was financially strapped. The fourteenth Duke of Alba ordered a painting to commemorate the third Duke of Alba, also known as the "Butcher of Flanders." Here the infamous ancestor receives a hat and sword blessed by the pope for suppressing Protestant heresy in the Netherlands. As the governor-general of the Netherlands from 1567 to 1573, the duke had formed the Council of Troubles, nicknamed the "Council of Blood," which condemned some 12,000 Protestant rebels to death.
The drawing took many hours to make, including constructing a complicated cut-out replacement to correct the architectural background. Despite reworking the picture into a red-dominated composition symbolizing a bloodbath, Ingres, repulsed, abandoned the painting in 1819. He later said that the painting remained a sketch-"as God had wished." Edgar Degas, a great admirer of Ingres, once owned the unfinished canvas. During World War II, Hermann Goering acquired the painting; at war's end it went to the Musée Ingres at Montauban, France.