THE CHRISTMAS CANVAS: ‘The Presentation at the Temple’ by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1342)

Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290 – 1348) was a medieval Italian painter of the Sienese school of art. Inspired by the Byzantine and the Classical genre, he developed a unique and absorbing style of painting. Disembarking from the rigid Gothic, he experimented with different kinds of perspectives, physiognomy and the illusion of depth. His artistic spirit sniffs soul through today’s canvas.

‘The Presentation at the Temple’ visually narrates to us an event from the early years of the life of Christ. The painting is housed at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. A masterpiece indeed, it was painted for the Chapel of San Crescenzio in the transept of the Cathedral of Siena. The painting illustrates an extra-ordinary interaction of artistic and liturgical details, an encounter between the old and the new.

A presentation ceremony in Jerusalem was accompanied by certain traditional prescriptions. The first: according to the Hebrew law after birthing a son a woman is considered impure for forty days. At the end of this period inorder to get rid of the impurity she has to bring an offering to the temple. The second: Every first born human or animal belongs to God. Thus inorder to win redemption, a clean animal would have to be sacrificed.

In conjunction to the Hebrew rituals, forty days after giving birth, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to present him to the Lord. As they enter the solemnity of the temple, they are in for a surprise. Among the great coming and going of busy priests and anxious people stand the two elderly and devout Simeon and Anna. Simeon leans forward to hold Christ Child in his arms.

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