The Nativity with Saint Francis and Saint Lawrence is the only known work associated with Caravaggio's brief stay in Palermo and is much more traditional than the Messina Adoration, not only because the Christ Child is alone on the ground while the Madonna sits on a low seat (a more customary combination in earlier art) but equally because of the more conventional poses and well-dressed appearances of the surrounding figures. Such presentation may have reflected some stipulation from the patron, as, perhaps, did the foreshortened angel, with his scroll inscribed 'Gloria in Eccelsis Deo', who recalls the rather rhetorical mood of such earlier works as The Martyrdom of St. Matthew, the second version of St. Matthew and the Angel and the Madonna of Mercy.
The handling of paint is also much more precise and finished-looking than in many of Caravaggio's late pictures. Yet his newly acquired depth of humble feeling was not entirely lost, and the peasant-like figure of St. Joseph on 'the right, with his broad-brimmed hat and swarthy hands, seems to have been a prototype for the many similar figures which people the compositions of popular realists in the next two centuries - from Louis Le Nain to Giacomo Ceruti. The picture was, according to Bellori, painted for the Oratory of the Compagnia di San Lorenzo, where it remained until stolen in 1969.