Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Presentation in the Temple and Purification of Mary

Alvaro Pirez, Presentation
Portuguese, c. 1430
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

"When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him. 
Luke 2:22-40
(Gospel for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, February 2)

St. Luke, who gives us the most detailed account of the birth of Jesus, from the Annunciation to this event of the Presentation, is traditionally believed to have been in touch with Mary and to have gained his knowledge of these events from her or at least from someone who knew her well.  The intimate details of events such as those recounted in the Gospel for the Presentation would seem to confirm this.  However, he also wants to show his readers that the parents of Jesus were devout and humble Jews, careful to fulfill the requirements of the Law, even as they raised the One who would bring salvation to Israel and to all people.

From Troparium, Prosarium, Graduale
German (Pruem), c. 975-1000
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9448, fol. 28

The Mosaic law laid down two requirements on the birth of a first son to any couple.  First, the male child was to be consecrated to the Lord as a reminder of the last plague of the Exodus, during which the first born of the Egyptians were killed (Exodus 13).  But the child could be redeemed for a payment of five silver sheckels to a member of a priestly clan (Numbers 18:16).

Fra Angelico, Presentation
Italian, c. 1433-1434
Cortona, Museo Diocesano

Second, a woman who had given birth to a boy was required to spend 40 days without touching anything sacred.  At the end of this time “she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a yearling lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or a turtledove for a purification offering…If, however, she cannot afford a lamb, she may take two turtledoves or two pigeons, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a purification offering. The priest shall make atonement for her, and thus she will again be clean.” (Leviticus 12:1-8)

From the Hours of Louis of Savoy
French (Savoy), 1445-1460
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9473, fol. 55r

Luke conflates what would be two separate events, the redemption of the child and the purification of the mother, into one story.  Mary and Joseph bring their son to the Temple to pay his ransom and to certify Mary as recovered from childbirth.  He then weaves into the tale the reactions of Simeon and Anna, two pious old people who have prophetic gifts and who recognize the child for Who He is.  

Ambrogio da Fossano, known as Il Bergognone, The Presentation
Italian, c. 1497-1500
Lodi, Tempio Civico della Beata Vergina Incoronata

This is another epiphany.  There have been epiphanies to the lowly shepherds of Bethlehem, to the learned Wise Men from the Gentile nations and now there is an epiphany to those in Jerusalem who are capable of seeing.

Giuseppe Cesari, Purification
Italian, 1617-1627
Rome, Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella

We know that a feast of the Presentation/Purification was celebrated in Jerusalem as early as the fourth century when it was described by the pilgrim, Egeria.  From there it gradually spread to the entire church, reaching the church in Rome by the seventh century.  In the West it became known as the Purification of Mary and was set on February 2nd

Rembrandt, Presentation
Dutch, 1631
The Hague, Mauritshuis Museum

By the eleventh century a solemn blessing of and procession with candles had been introduced and the day began to be known as Candlemas. 1 The procession with candles marked the entry of “the light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory of your people Israel” into the Temple.  Over time it began to be seen as the last event of the Christmas season.  It was the day on which people turned their attention from the coming of Christ, removing any remaining decorations, and began their preparation for Easter with the onset of Lent.  

Artists have given us many, many images of the event and these images tell us some very important things. 

The Meeting with Simeon

The lovely words of Simeon have been preserved in the daily prayer of the Church, the Divine Office (or the Hours) as the Biblical canticle for the daily prayer that ends the day, Compline.  Called the “Nunc dimittis” it is recited every evening before bed by all who pray the Hours, be they priest, religious or lay person.  So the images that form in the mind have been given visual form by artists. 

The simplest image is that of the meeting between the aged Simeon and the Child Jesus.  Many artists have chosen this as the image they want to present.  These images frequently represent the event as taking place outside the temple building, as is implied by the text of the Gospel.  Details such as the two pigeons for the offering may be included. 

Philippe de Champaigne, Presentation
French, 1648
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts

Johann Hiebel, Presentation
German, 1727-1731
Litomerice (Czech Republic), Jesuit Church of the Annunciation

Heinrich Seling, Presentation
German, 1890-1893
Hamburg, St. Mary's Cathedral
The images above are part of this iconographic stream.  

The First Hint of Public Sacrifice

But there is another set of images, far surpassing the Meeting in number, that have been the favored image type, especially during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance.

In these images the visual emphasis is not on the meeting between the old man and the Child, but the future of the Child as a willing sacrificial victim.  In these images the Christ Child is shown in relation to the altar of the temple.  He may be placed or about to be placed on it, and shown sitting, standing or lying on it, or it may simply be in the space between Mary and Simeon (or sometimes a temple priest). 2  In addition, some of the other figures in the story, such as St. Joseph and the prophetess, Anna, may not be there at all.

From the Sacramentary of Drogo
French (Metz), c.850
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9428, fol.38r

These images call to mind, not the entrance of the light into the temple, but the impending sacrifice on the Cross.  This, the dark side of the Christmas story, is often ignored today, but was definitely fully realized in earlier centuries.  Christ came as a child to suffer and to die for humanity.  He is the sacrificial victim, the pure Lamb of God, whose coming was foreshadowed in earlier images of sacrifice, even including the offerings of his own parents.

From Sacramentary
German (Reichenau), 1020-1040
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 18005, fol. 42v

Presentation (in the lower right roundel)
From Missal
French (St. Maur-des-Fosses), 11th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 12054, fol.148v
This image and the ivory diptych below make the connection between the events of the Nativity and the Passion explicit.

Consequently, in these images he takes the place, sometimes directly, but always at least visually, on the altar where the temple sacrifices also lay.
Presentation and Crucifixion, Ivory Diptych
French, 14th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

On the other hand, this altar itself often looks forward to the Christian sacrifice of the Mass.  The altars are frequently draped in cloth, just as the altar is draped for the celebration of the Mass.

from Evangeliary
German (Pruem),1100-1130
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 17325, fol. 21v

from St. Alban's Psalter
English (St. Albans), c. 1121-1146
Hildesheim, Dombibliothek

From Psalter of St. Louis and of Blanche de Castille
French, c. 1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol.18

Guido da Siena, Presentation
Italian, 1270s
Paris, Musée du Louvre

From Psalter
French (St.Omer), c. 1275-1300
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Smith-Lesouef 20, f.12v

Master of Banacavallo, Presentation
Italian (Imola), c.1278
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pietro Cavallini, Presentation
Italian, c. 1285-1295
Rome, Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere

Giotto, Presentation
Italian, c. 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel

Duccio, Presentation
From the Maestà Altarpiece
Italian, c. 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

From The Cloisters Apocalypse
French (Normandy), c. 1330
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection
Accession Number 68.174, fol.2r

From Bible moralisee
Italy (Naples), c. 1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 9561, fol . 137v

Master of the Paremont de Narbonne, Presentation
From Tres Belles Heures de Notre-Dame de Jean de Berry
French (Paris), c. 1380
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 3093, fol.56

Melchior Broederlam, Presentation
Flemish, c. 1393-1399
Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Herman,Paul, Jean de Limburg, Presentation
From Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry
French, c. 1405-1408
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection
Accession Number 54.1.1a, fol.57r

Fra Angelico, Presentation
Italian, c. 1440-1442
Florence, Museo di San Marco, Cell 10
Presented as a vision before the eyes of two Dominican saints, we see the altar behind the figures.  Sacrificial flames can be seen issuing from it just under the hands of Mary.

Master of the Prado Adoration of the Magi, The Presentation
Flemish, c. 1470-1480
Washington, National Gallery of Art

Rambures Master, Presentation and its Old Testament Precedents
From Biblia pauperum
French (Hesdin or Amiens), c. 1470
The Hague, Museum Meermano-Westreenianum
MS 10 A 15, fol. 22v
Frequently also, the hands of Simeon, the priest and/or the Virgin Mary are shown as draped as well, just as the hands of priests are draped to carry the monstrance which displays the Eucharistic Body of Christ, as if the body of the Child were already the consecrated Body.3

Follower of Master of Jean Rolin, Presentation
From Book of Hours
French, (Paris), c. 1450
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS  74 F 1, fol. 80r

Follower of Jean Pichore, Presentation
 From Book of Hours
French (Paris), c. 1500
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS  74 G 22, fol. 95v

This may have had even greater force than it may at first appear to us, because in the Middle Ages there were frequently reported visions of the apparition of a small child in the hands of the priest following the consecration of the Mass, when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.  These apparitions were so well known that St. Thomas Aquinas even devotes to them a portion of the discussion on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the Summa Theologica.4

Raphael, Presentation
Italian, c. 1502-1503
Vatican City, Pinacoteca Vaticana

Jan Joest of Kalkar, Presentation
Dutch, 1508
Kalkar Kreis Kleve, Catholic parish church of St. Nicholas

Jan van Scorel, Presentation
Dutch, c. 1524-26
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Anonymous, Presentation
Dutch, c. 1601-1650
Altenburg, Lindenau Museum

Pieter Jozef Verhaghen, Presentation
Flemish, 1767
Ghent, Museum voor Schone Kunsten
(In this picture the presence of the altar is not as visible as in earlier works, but it is still a presence to the side of the scene.

Indeterminate Images

There are also a few images that don’t fit either type very well. While not including the actual altar of sacrifice, they often show some of the other elements that signal the reference to sacrifice, even if it is just a reluctance on the part of the participants to hand Him back and forth.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Presentation
Italian, 1342
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi

Andrea Mantegna, Presentation
Italian, c. 1460
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Vittore Carpaccio, Presentation
Italian, 1510
Venice, Gallerie dell'Accademia

Jean Bourdichon, Presentation
From Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne
French (Tours), c. 1503-1508
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 70v

Andrea Celesti, Presentation
Italian, c.1710
Venice, Church of San Zaccaria

Giovanni DomenicoTiepolo, Presentation
Italian, 1754
Stockholm, National Museum

Consequently, we can see that not only is the feast of the Presentation of Jesus/Purification of Mary/Candlemas about the event of Jesus’ first experience of the temple or of his meeting with Simeon or of the prophecies of Simeon and Anna, but it is about his impending sacrifice and about the prolongation of that sacrifice that we know as the Eucharist.

© M. Duffy, 2016

1.       For information on the feast of the Presentation/Purification see:  Holweck, Frederick. "Candlemas." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company,1908. 2 Feb. 2016 .
2.       Schorr, Dorothy C., “The Iconographic Development of the Presentation in the Temple”, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 28, No. 1, March 1946, pp. 17-32.
3.       Sinanoglou, Leah. “The Christ Child as Sacrifice:  A Medieval Tradition and the Corpus Christi Plays”, Speculum, Vol. 48, No. 3, July 1973, pp. 491-509.
4.       Aquinas, St. Thomas.  The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Second and Revised Edition, 1920.  Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Online Edition Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight, Part III, Question 76, Article 8.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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