This work shows the Madonna and Child seated in a garden that represents Eden. The orange trees bloom with pure white flowers that symbolize Mary's virginity. An Annunciation scene appears in the raised and gilded foliate scrolls at the top of the painting.
Since antiquity, sleep was regarded as "the brother of death," and during the Renaissance, representations of the sleeping Christ Child were considered prefigurations of the death that he would suffer for mankind. In Cosmè Tura's painting, death is also foreshadowed by the stone sarcophagus on which Mary is seated.
Cosmè Tura is considered the first great painter in Renaissance Ferrara, a city in northern Italy. He spent most of his professional life in the service of the noble d'Este family, the dukes of Ferrara. Because Ferrara lacked strong artistic traditions, Cosmè was free to develop a very personal style. He may have been inspired by the works of Tuscan and Paduan artists, as well as by the Flemish, some of whose paintings figured in Ferrarese collections in the fifteenth century. In this early work, Cosmè showed an eccentric tendency to exaggerate human anatomy for expressive ends, as seen in the treatment of the Virgin's elongated hands. Purposeful distortions increase in his later works, which reverberate with spiritual and emotional fervor.