A student of painting, James explores in "The Madonna of the Future" (1873) an artist who has lost all sense of reality. He talks nonsense and dissolves into fantasy. Living in Florence for over 20 years this lost American doesn't recall who he is any more, but he must finish his painting of a Madonna. Caroline Spencer, a young New Englander, dreams of visiting Italy and Switzerland. A compassionate and generous woman, her dreams over 15-20 years become the debris of her life, and her smile remains fixed, except when the tears are rising.