Using pen and ink and chalk, Leonardo da Vinci drew a child and a lamb several times, trying out different poses for the figures. He may have begun with the smaller and more freely sketched study in the upper right. He then drew the figures again below, changing the angle of the child and the sheep's face. Lastly, he drew the more elaborate study at the bottom left, in which the legs are posed with greater complexity and the child leans back on the lamb.
Leonardo probably made the drawing in preparation for a painting of the Virgin and Child with Saint John, now lost but known through copies. He inscribed some notes unrelated to the drawing at the top of the sheet in his characteristic backwards writing, legible only with the help of a mirror.