This intimate portrayal of the Madonna and sleeping Christ Child is a fine example of the deeply personal style that characterized the work of Giuseppe Maria Crespi's maturity. Although the composition owes something to his Bolognese predecessors, the Carracci and Guido Reni, the devout message is conveyed with an eloquent tenderness and directness of feeling that is wholly unique to Crespi.
The graceful gesture, controlled by selective accents of light against a dark background, leads the viewer's eye from the Madonna's tender expression, to the hand that enfolds her blue mantle over the sleeping Christ Child. Cast in shadow, the Infant's right hand clasps a small wooden cross, a symbol of sacrifice. The dramatic lighting of the scene, the feathery impasted brushwork in the lighter tones and spare application of pigment in the shadows and halftones, exploiting the reddish ground, are characteristic of Crespi's work in the 1720s.
Merriman dates this private devotional work to circa 1720-1725 and notes that the composition is the source for the central section of Crespi's Adoration of the Shepherds in the Art Museum, Seattle, and for another version of the same subject in the Galleria Sabauda, Turin, which has been attributed to his son, Luigi Crespi (op. cit., p. 241, nos. 23 and 24). A small upright canvas of this subject was sold at Sotheby's, London, 5 July 2006, lot 48 (£512,000).