While the Madonna tenderly caresses her son Jesus and her nephew the infant Saint John the Baptist, the two children extend their arms toward each other, expressing both familial and divine love. Yet, because each of the boys tucks his nearer arm in toward his body, the composition remains open. The goldfinch held carelessly in the Christ Child's left hand symbolizes his future Crucifixion.
This painting's small scale and sensitive, poetic intimacy contrast with Giovanni Lanfranco's more usual grand, illusionistic decorations. The painting's frame, a type that was often used in the Barberini Palace in Rome, hints at the picture's previous location. Lanfranco may have painted it for a private chapel owned by the Barberini, Pope Urban VIII's family and leading patrons of Baroque art in Rome in the 1600s.