Better known for grand, monumental compositions and illusionistic decorations, here Lanfranco painted on a smaller scale, successfully portraying an intimate moment between the Madonna, her son, and her nephew. While the Madonna tenderly caresses her son, the two children extend their arms toward each other, expressing both familial and divine love. The goldfinch held carelessly in the Christ Child's left hand can be interpreted as a prefiguration of the Passion. According to legend, as Christ was led to die on Calvary, a goldfinch flew down and plucked a thorn from his bleeding skin splashing itself with his blood in the process, thus acquiring its characteristic spot of red on its plumage.

While working in Rome, Lanfranco received several commissions from Pope Urban VIII (1623–1644), a member of the Barberini family, and great patron of the arts. The painting’s frame—a type that was often used in the Barberini Palace—has led to suggestions that this intimate scene was intended for display in one of the family’s private chapels.

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