The commission: The "Sistine Madonna" was almost certainly commissioned directly by Pope Julius II. In July 1512 the Vatican received the news that the northern Italian town of Piacenza had joined the Papal States. It is assumed that this event prompted the Pope to commission the painting. The "Sistine Madonna" was intended for the monastery church of San Sisto in Piacenza, with which the Pope was associated on account of close family contacts. Raphael had probably already been completed the work by the time of the Pope's death in February 1513. The painting: The "Sistine Madonna" is one of the world's most famous Renaissance masterpieces. It depicts a vision appearing to saints in the clouds. In the centre of the picture the Virgin strides towards the earthly realm whilst holding the Christ Child in her arms. Out of the expanse of the heavens, intimated by the countless heads of angels painted in sky blue, she carries the Christ Child into the world. Pope Sixtus II, a martyr from the third century, kneels on the left-hand side of the picture, showing her the way. On the right-hand side is the meekly kneeling figure of St. Barbara, who also suffered martyrdom in the third century. These two saints were venerated at the high altar of the monastery church of San Sisto in Piacenza, which is why the artist included them in the painting. The two cute cherubs perching on the balustrade at the bottom of the picture were added by Raphael at the very end of the painting process, primarily for compositional reasons.