Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606 – 1669

The Circumcision

oil on canvas (56 × 75 cm) — 1661 Museum National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn biography

This work is linked to Luke 2:21

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Eight days have passed since the birth when a priest circumcises the baby Jesus, who is held by Mary. Another priest reads a text; next to him Joseph watches on. The scene takes place in a stable - probably the nativity stable in Bethlehem.

Luke's gospel doesn't specify the location of the circumcision. In a 1654 etching Rembrandt had also situated it in a stable, but in previous works he displayed it in the temple. That would however have been against Jewish law, which forbids the mother to even come close to the temple within 40 days after giving birth.

The painting is typical for Rembrandt's late period: the figures are not clearly outlined but seem to appear out of broad strokes with the brush.

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