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Christ sleeps across his mother's lap in an attitude suggestive of the Pietà when his dead body was placed in a similar position. Joseph and the infant John the Baptist look on, the latter enjoining both attention and silence and mysteriously attired in a leopard skin (rather than the traditional camel skin).

The composition was known as 'Il Silenzio' (Silence) in the 16th century. It is based on a highly finished drawing made by Michelangelo and was probably painted in Florence in about 1560.

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