In 1612 Jan and Balthasar Moretus, the owners of Antwerp's Plantin Press, commissioned their friend Peter Paul Rubens to design thirteen illustrations for a new Breviarium Romanum, the Catholic prayer book; this drawing and the twelve others were completed by March 1614. A friend since childhood, Balthasar Moretus would in his later years write of Rubens, "I loved this young man who had the most perfect and the most amiable character."
The assumption of the Virgin was a subject to which Rubens repeatedly returned throughout his career. In this version, the controlled, classical composition echoes one of Titian's altarpieces of the same subject. The bravura style of Baroque Italian painters also influenced Rubens's ebullient and dramatically foreshortened putti.
Rubens began drawing in chalk, which he then covered over with pen, ink, and wash. The chalk underdrawing contains several pentimenti, which are most obvious in the figure of the Virgin. These changes of mind, as well as the indents for transfer onto the plate are probably evidence that this drawing was the final of several studies, not the final sheet from which the engraver would work.