The Virgin, in Need of Purification, Meets Doubting Simeon in the Temple Courtyard

TEXT FROM THE OPENING OF NONE.

(Paris, ca. 1440). 121 x 89 mm. (4 3/4 x 3 1/2"). Single column, three lines of text on verso, nine lines on recto, in an especially fine gothic book hand.

Attractively matted. Rubrics in red, recto with two one-line initials as well as three line fillers, all in colors and burnished gold, the same side with a swirling quarter panel border featuring flowers, acanthus leaves, and many burnished gold ivy leaves on hairline stems, the verso with a large three-line initial in blue and white with enclosed scrolling flowered stems, the whole on a burnished gold ground; the verso also WITH A FULL INHABITED BORDER featuring much acanthus and other vegetation and fruit as well as two lively doves, the border FRAMING A RICHLY DETAILED ARCH-TOPPED ILLUMINATED MINIATURE OF THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE (measuring approximately 65 x 44 mm.), the scene showing the Virgin outside the Temple accompanied by an attendant, the Christ Child seated in the palm of the hand of Simeon. Top margin very narrow (but nothing cut into), the faces and robes of the two women with a bit of paint erosion (very minor loss also in the two men's necks), otherwise very fine, with the vellum fresh, bright, and clean.

The iconography of this well-designed scene is intriguing, as it shows an atypically retrospective version of that important moment, 40 days after the birth of Jesus, when, by Jewish law, the Virgin comes to the Temple to be purified and to present to the High Priest her first-born male child. In the vast majority of miniatures of the Presentation in the Temple to be found in Books of Hours of the late Medieval and Renaissance period, the Christ Child is handed over to the priest (usually identified as Simeon) at an altar indoors, as the Virgin and Joseph and other attendants look on. In the present version, Joseph is absent, the setting is outdoors, and the focus is less on the mother and infant than it is on Simeon and the child. Although infrequently seen in 15th century Books of Hours, the exterior setting is ancient and found, for example, in a well-known miniature of the 11th century in the Cologne School Gospels of the Abbess Hitda of Meschede, where the child is actually seen frontally and looks directly at the viewer. In our miniature, Simeon has taken the child into his hands, which are covered by a cloth as a mark of reverence, and, inspired by the Spirit, he recognizes in the child the promised salvation of Israel and says the "Nunc dimittis" ("Now I can depart in peace") in thanksgiving. It is this encounter between Simeon and the child that was the original iconography for the Presentation and is the subject of the earliest surviving depiction, the mosaic of the fifth century in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome (where the setting is also outside the temple). The woman behind the Virgin carries a basket of sacrificial turtle doves, a consistent feature of the Presentation scene, but this female is not normally seen, as here, with a nimbus. (She seems not to be Saint Anna the prophetess, whom Luke describes as coming to the Temple at the same time as the Virgin, as Anna was "of a great age," while our figure seems still rather young). The elaborateness of the architectural backdrop here attests to the skill and patience of the artist, and the bright green lawn, colored roofs, and abundant use of gold lend pleasing contextual details to the scene. The rich background elements include a slender fountain (perhaps symbolizing the waters of life) in the center, a massive gateway with mosaic roof behind our principals, and a cloister wall above which rise the peaks of two houses roofed in red and blue as well as two large tufted trees. A poignant note is introduced by the mournful expression on the face of the Virgin, something that can easily be interpreted as reflecting her contemplation of the painful future prophesied for her son.
(ST11459-79)

Add to Cart Price: $4,500.00

PJP Catalog: 70.392

TEXT FROM THE OPENING OF NONE. FROM A. BOOK OF HOURS IN LATIN AN ILLUMINATED VELLUM MANUSCRIPT LEAF WITH A. RICHLY DETAILED MINIATURE OF THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE.