This particular piece was gifted to Tommaso de’ Cavalieri, someone whom Michelangelo was dearly fond of and would constantly try to steal his affections in this way. Despite both living in the city of Rome they would actually correspond through letters more so than meeting in person, but this has helped us to put together a much clearer understanding of their relationship.
In order to produce such a precise, detailed series of figures, Michelangelo used the sharpened point of his chalk right across the paper. Several engravings based on this piece still remain and some of the earlier ones reveal that there must have been some small damage to the outer edges of the drawing but, all in all, it remains in remarkable condition considering its age and also the fragility of this medium.
The fierce activity of the infants in this composition is intended to represent a semi-animal manner, as if the lowest state of humanity and perhaps a warning to Michelangelo's friend, Cavalieri, about the pitfalls of alcohol. These may remind some of the work of William Hogarth many centuries later, who would promote beer against the perils of gin in Beer Street and Gin Lane.
One interesting aspect of this sketch is the by-play between Raphael and Michelangelo. The former had previously made use of elements of the latter's Doni Tondo, and this kind gesture was returned in this artwork as Michelangelo placed a figure in the top right which was based on Raphael's Entombment of 1507.