When it was discovered, the delicacy, tenderness and deep spirituality that emanated from the composition were emphasized. In it, Zurbarán presents with admirable simplicity a Child Virgin who had fallen asleep during a pause in her prayers. She is holding the book with which she was meditating in her left hand, leaning her elbow on a modest rush-seated chair and perhaps dreaming about what the future holds for her.
To the right of the composition is a rustic table with a metal plate holding an Oriental porcelain bowl, containing three flowers of clear symbolic significance: a rose (love), a lily (purity) and a carnation (faithfulness).
At the time of discovery there was dismay about the dirty state of the canvas. It was covered with a thick layer of yellow varnish that hid the delicacy of its execution and shaded its colouring, preventing a true interpretation of the picture in relation to the Jerez version.
Fortunately, careful cleaning has enabled the canvas to be seen properly: its quality has been restored and its precise nature confirmed, showing the incisiveness of the folds and the attention to detail. The removal of the old coats of varnish has brought to light many hidden features, such as the turned finish of the chair back and the velvety texture of the red cushion at the feet of the small table. Freed from the yellow varnishes, the colour has recovered its original tones: purplish pink for the tunic, and deep blue for the cloak that has partially slipped off.
The bright circle of small angelic faces surrounding the Virgin’s head was also uncovered, allowing the canvas to be dated to 1630-35. This is perhaps immediately before the Jerez version, which is somewhat softer and more gentle, with the volumes less clearly outlined and the chiaroscuro less accentuated. Moreover, yet another version of this Sleeping Virgin is known. It was produced by a modest imitator of Zurbarán towards the end of the 17th century, and is located in the Santa Teresa House in Madrid. Its execution is weak and the brush strokes very free – in other words, in sharp contrast to the two other signed versions.