Though drawing the holy subject of the Virgin and Child, Guido Reni simply captured the intimacy of a woman cradling her infant. Other than their attractiveness, he gave no indication that this baby or this woman was divine. When he later painted the group as The Holy Family Adored by Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist, he idealized the figures more and made them more majestic to indicate their biblical importance.
Using sharp, rather scratchy strokes and a somewhat irregular use of red chalk, Reni sketched the Virgin's face, the center of the group, and her foot. Artists often combined red and black chalks to suggest color distinctions associated with faces, hair, costumes, and other details. Reni's judicious use of white against the light paper gives the effect of the Virgin's drapery shimmering in the light.
On the verso, Reni sketched a turban such as a sibyl might wear, with the barest indication of earrings and a scarf.