The canvas with the Virgin, Child and Saints Sixtus and Barbara, usually called the Sistine Madonna, is characterized by an imaginary space created by the figures themselves. The figures stand on a bed of clouds, framed by heavy curtains which open to either side. The Virgin actually appears to descend from a heavenly space, through the picture plane, out into the real space in which the painting is hung. The gesture of St. Sixtus and the glance of St. Barbara seem to be directed toward the faithful, whom we imagine beyond the balustrade at the bottom of the painting. The Papal tiara, which rests on top of this balustrade, act as a bridge between the real and pictorial space.
The painting was probably intended to decorate the tomb of Pope Julius II, since St. Sixtus was the patron saint of the Della Rovere family and St. Barbara and the two winged 'genii', which are visible at the bottom of the picture space and which became an independent theme in contemporary pop culure, symbolize the funeral ceremony. The canvas was located in the convent of St Sixtus in Piacenza and was later donated by the monks to Augustus III of Saxony. St Sixtus was the uncle of Julius IIn who commissioned this most beautiful work.