Greek icon | Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Icon: Presentation of Christ in the Temple C-8

Crete, circa 1600
Tempera on panel, 43.5 x 36.3 cm

Private Collection, Germany
ALR Ref. No: S00141147

The icon, painted on a thick panel with a relatively deep recessed area and a bold raised border, shows the Virgin presenting the Christ Child to Simeon the High-Priest. The elderly figure of Simeon is standing on a pedestal, holding the Christ Child in his arms, leaning forward to present Him to his Mother, the latter extending her right hand in response. To the left, Joseph carries two doves, while the prophetess Anna points at the event and turns to Joseph behind her. With her left hand she holds an open scroll of which the text in black Greek majuscules reads: “This Child consolidated Heaven and Earth”. Like Simeon, the prophetess Anna recognized the Child’s divinity. The  background of the scene is dominated by an elegant ciborium, its dome and four columns topped with capitals made of marble. The ciborium is flanked by two high, slender edifices, the right one crowned with a golden vase on a large capital with curly decoration. A pair of doors in the foreground in front of an altar table covered with a cinnabar red cloth refers to the temple of Jerusalem. 

The feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Hypapante) is among the most ancient feasts of the Christian Church. Originally, the feast was a minor celebration, but in 542 was established throughout the Eastern Empire by Emperor Justinian I. Up to the present day, the Presentation of Christ is one of the great feasts of the orthodox liturgical calendar (February 14th). According to the Gospel of Luke (2:22–40), forty days after his birth, Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to the Temple of Jerusalem for the customary rite of purification. At the temple they encountered the prophet Simeon who had been promised that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. The elderly prophetess Anna was present in the temple as well.  

The composition of the icon is well proportioned and the style of painting is refined and elegant. To the left side, the three figures in a solemn procession approach the prophet Simeon on the right, who holds the Christ Child in his arms. This combined with the elegant buildings rising high up against the gold ground, the scene emanates a graceful quietness, which underlines the importance of the event. 

The iconography of the panel is based on late Byzantine, Palaeologan models, like the fifteenth century icon of the Presentation in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,(1) a fifteenth century icon with the same subject on Patmos,(2) and the border scene on a Cretan icon dated circa 1500 and attributed to Nikolaos Ritzos now in Sarajevo.(3) The same model was used for Cretan icons from the sixteenth century onwards, as for example for the seventeenth century icon of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, attributed to the painter Victor and now in the Zakynthos Museum.(4) Though the composition of this icon is very similar to ours, the less academic style of our icon, with its freely and sketchy applied highlights, flowing lines and spacious design, seems to suggest an earlier dating, in all probability circa 1600. The style points towards a talented and skilled master, trained in the Cretan style of icon painting and active on Crete or one of the other Greek islands. 

Drs Simon Morsink

1 Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1980, pp. 102, 104, fig. 200.
2 Manolis Chatzidakis, Icons of Patmos. Questions of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Painting, Athens 1985 (1977), no. 26, pp. 77-78, plate 24.
3 Idem, plate 202.
4 Zoe A. Mylona, The Zakynthos Museum, Athens 1998, pp. 56-64.