Parmigianino made this drawing and many others in preparation for his most famous painting, the Madonna of the Long Neck. With that painting, he ventured to extremes in molding the human body to create an image of grace and beauty. These studies demonstrate the freedom of his penwork and his fertile thought process in experimenting with a variety of poses before settling on his elegant final solution.
On the recto, Parmigianino explored how to position the Madonna and Child together, focusing on the Christ Child's pose. The baby here has curly hair and open eyes that suggest a liveliness absent in the finished work.
The upper left corner of the sheet's verso contains a study for the Virgin's head. She appears with her head tilted downward, as in the painting, but she wears a veil that Parmigianino later discarded. Next to her is a woman in profile who does not appear in the painting. In the lower right corner, Parmigianino drew a study of the temple's entablature and columns, an idea he ultimately omitted.