Sano di Pietro, The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple

1448-51
Tempera and gold on wood panel
Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome

Like most images in this type the artist ignores the literary tradition that there were 15 steps. It also breaks tradition by putting the event in an interior space. The steps culminate in an area much like the chancel of a church, with an altar and a golden tabernacle. The tabernacle refers to a tradition going back at least to the 3rd century that "the holy Virgin is in truth an ark, wrought with gold both within and without" (Gregory Thaumaturgus, Works, 123).

St. Anne is on the left with a woman dressed like herself and two younger women. These are most likely her sister Hismeria and Hismeria's daughters Elind and Elizabeth, who is to be the mother of John the Baptist. (These are all identified in the Golden Legend's section on the Birth of Mary.) On the right are St. Joachim and two companions. The High Priest is dressed more like a Christian bishop, with a mitre and cope.

It is unusual to show Mary looking back to her mother. Most images have her striding confidently forward and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew emphasizes that "she did not look back at all; nor did she, as children are wont to do, seek for her parents."

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More of Mary's Birth, Youth, Marriage

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