The Virgin Mary tenderly holds Christ on her lap, while the donors who commissioned this panel kneel below them, their eyes raised in reverence. The Christ child meets their gaze as he rewards their piety with a blessing. A fig branch is visible in the frame of the window in the background, a symbol of Christ's resurrection.
Lotto divides his composition in two, framing the Virgin and Christ child with swathes of drapery, while the space inhabited by the kneeling couple is distinctly delineated: they are positioned against a wall with a window which opens onto a view of a distant landscape. The appearance of the figures on either side of the composition is characteristically different. The Virgin’s brightly-colored robes contrast with the somber dress of the donors. Lotto has depicted mother and child in twisting, angular poses, with the Madonna balancing in contrapposto, while the kneeling couple are shown in profile, in rigid, upright positions. This division serves to emphasize the contrast between the earthly and the spiritual realms, but might also be explained by the fact that the figures of the Virgin and her son are thought to have been borrowed from a composition by another artist, perhaps someone in the circle of Raphael (1483 – 1520) or Giulio Romano (about 1499 – 1546). The differentiation between the two sets of figures has also led scholars to suggest that this painting demonstrates a transitional phase in Lotto’s work.
Donors were frequently portrayed in paintings that they commissioned from the Medieval period onwards. This specific kind of composition, in which kneeling donors are depicted in profile alongside the Virgin and Child was developed by a fellow Venetian artist, Giovanni Bellini (about 1435 – 1516), in the 1490s, and became increasingly popular in the early 1500s. While earlier donor portraits were typically altarpieces, by the fifteenth century such paintings were also commissioned to display in the home or for private chapels. These works served both as portraits of the individuals who funded them, and as testimony to their piety.