The Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple

SKU PF.5961

19th Century AD


20.25″ (51.4cm) high





Gallery Location



Russians inherited the tradition of icon painting from Byzantium, where it began as an offshoot of the mosaic and fresco tradition. During the 8th and 9th centuries, the iconoclastic controversy in the Orthodox Church called into question whether religious images were a legitimate practice or sacrilegious idolatry. Although the use of images was in the end permitted, a thorough distinction between profane art intended to depict reality and sacred art designed for spiritual contemplation was established. Certain kinds of balance and harmony became established as reflections of divinity, and as such they invited careful reproduction and subtle refinement rather than striking novelty. Although this philosophy resulted in a comparatively slow evolution of style, icon painting evolved considerably over the centuries. Unlike the pictorial traditions of the west that aspire towards increased realism and naturalism, the essence of Russian icon painting is not about the representation of physical space or appearance. Icons are images intended to aid in contemplative prayer, and in that sense, are more concerned with conveying meditative harmony than with laying out a realistic scene. They were not painted to please the eye of the mind, but to inspire reflection and self-examination.

The aged Simeon had been promised that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. When Mary and Joseph came the temple to offer sacrifices as prescribed in the Law for her purification and to present their firstborn to the Lord, Simeon, led by the spirit, also came to the temple. He recognized in Jesus the longed-for Promised One. With reverence, Simeon takes the Child, who smiles at us, into his arms. Mary stands to the left, holding out her arms as if she just let go of her son. Joseph stands behind her gazing pensively at his child. They appear deeply moved by the prophetic words of Simeon, as does the prophetess Anna who stands to the far right. There is almost no elaboration of the temple architecture except for the stone bricks of the floor. Clearly the artist has sought to depict this moving scene inside the golden backdrop of heaven.

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