The drawing is continued a little way onto folio 21 verso opposite (D04942; Turner Bequest LXXXI 40a). A rapid sketch of a subject similar to this is on folio 1 recto (D04902; Turner Bequest LXXXI 1). Finberg suggested that the figures represent Joseph and Mary,1 but this is doubtful. The study is clearly related to the painting currently titled The Procuress; (?) Judith with the Head of Holofernes (Tate N05500),2 where the old man is altered into a crone.
The painting was formerly dated to around 1803, and associated with Titian–inspired works such as the Holy Family of that year (Tate N00473).3 The present author has argued, however, that it may belong to the second Roman stay of 1828, when Turner was sharing rooms with his friend and colleague Charles Lock Eastlake (1793–1865), and illustrates the Biblical story of Judith and Holofernes (or perhaps Salome and John the Baptist), while noting the apparent connection with this study in the Calais Pier book.4
There are splashes of brownish–pink colour.