This cast is taken from one of nine female portrait busts ascribed to the Italian renaissance sculptor Francesco Laurana on the basis of their resemblance to a series of documented groups of the Virgin and Child by the artist. Two of those nine busts - in the Frick Collection, New York, and in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. - are closely related to this portrait, and even appear to represent the same person. They have similar bases decorated with classicizing figures. Remains of extensive pigmentation survive on the marble, along with faint incised decoration of the dress, to form a richly gilded pattern. The cavity on the breast may once have been covered by a metal brooch or pendant, and the cartouche might have originally been inscribed with the sitter's name. The sitter has been tentatively identified as Ippolita Maria Sforza, the wife of King Alfonso II of Naples, although this identification is hypothetical.
During a fire towards the end of the Second World War, the marble portrait head in Berlin was divided from the rest of the bust, including its decorative base. The shoulders and integral base are now in Moscow, while the head is in the Bode Museum, Berlin. This plaster cast was made in the 1880s, before this extensive damage to the marble original.
Plaster casts were especially sought after during the 19th century, when reproductions of great works of sculpture and architecture were thought crucial for the training of artists. A separating substance was applied to the surface of the work to be reproduced, and a plaster mould made from that. The mould would then be used to make any number of additional plaster copies. These were often sold to artists, and later in the century to art colleges for study purposes.