With one hand the Virgin Mary balances the infant Christ on her lap while absorbed in a book. The baby Jesus’s small arm rests delicately on his mother’s shoulder, while he is happily embraced by his cousin St. John the Baptist. In the distance, St. Joseph reads with great concentration and casts a somber profile. On the right is St. Margaret, patron saint of pregnant women.
Agostino painted this work in Parma in 1600, the year of Ranuccio I Farnese’s marriage to Pope Clement VIII’s grandniece Margherita Aldobrandini. The marriage was purely political, designed to quell longstanding tensions between the rival families. The wedding was officiated by the pope on May 7th 1600 in the Sistine Chapel. Margherita then made a triumphal entry to Parma on October 4th, celebrated with numerous artistic festivities.