Titian, The Presentation of the Virgin Mary

Circa 1534-38
Oil on canvas
Accademia Gallery, Venice

In the Golden Legend Mary is said to be just three years old when her parents offer her to the Temple. "There was…fifteen steps or grees [steps] to ascend up to the temple.… And then our Lady was set on the lowest step, and mounted up without any help as she had been of perfect age." Titian expresses the sense of accomplishment in this narrative by contrasting the vast scope of the canvas with a strikingly diminutive Mary who nevertheless walks erect and confident up the steps, her right hand managing her skirt while her left returns the greeting of the High Priest.

Another striking touch is that Mary is given a full-size aura rather than a halo.

Presumably the woman in white at the foot of the stairs is St. Anne. She holds her hand to her breast in a gesture that can express both apprehension and pride. Behind her a woman points admiringly to Mary while casting her glance to the man in red, who is most likely St. Joachim, already standing at some remove from his daughter. His distance, and the distancing implied in Anne's gesture, relate to the Protevangelium's statement that the parents waited till Mary was three to offer her "in order that the child may not seek for father or mother" (Protevangelium, ¶7).

The High Priest at the top of the stairs wears Aaron's breastplate and hornlike "holy crown." The obelisk in the background resembles one in Tintoretto's 1556 painting of the same subject, which Dalla Costa says, "echoes the shape of the girl's body [and] symbolizes the sun and eternal life" (32, my translation).

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More of Mary's Birth, Youth, Marriage
More of Aaron

Photographed at the Gallery by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.