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Raphael’s painting shows the Madonna as a softly rounded woman with soft blonde hair gathered into a soft bun out of the viewer’s angle of vision. She is delicately bent over her son who is depicted as a plump and somewhat strangely proportioned infant just on the verge of walking. He is reaching out for a wooden pole suggestive of a cross held by a slightly older St. John. This entire scene is seen over the backdrop of a very green landscape that stretches far back into the distance with a large lake and mountains visible far into the horizon.
Parmigianino’s painting also depicts the Madonna tenderly holding the infant baby Jesus. She is tall and columnar as she looks down on an elongated infant who seems on the verge of falling out of her lap. She perches on a pedestal backed on one side by a rich red velvet curtain while a large grouping of angels gathers around her on this side to look adoringly at the baby. One of these angels is carrying a vase or urn that has a mirrorlike finish to it. It is positioned in such a way that it would throw a reflection back at the baby Jesus and may be the reason the baby was startled as the vase also has an etched cross on its surface. On the other side of the Madonna is a kind of landscape scene that is mostly a cloudscape. The visible sky is full of storm clouds with just a hint of blue on the horizon. There is also a tall Roman style column and the figure of St. Jerome.
There are a number of ways that the two paintings are similar. They are both concerned with the relationship between Jesus’ birth and his eventual death as well as the presence of his mother in both of these events. This is seen in the way that both paintings suggest the cross connected in some way – in the small post Jesus grabs in his infant hand in Raphael’s painting and the etched image in
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