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Work The Presentation in the Temple
Department of Paintings: French painting
The Presentation in the Temple
© 1999 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi
Donated in 1641 by Cardinal Richelieu to the Jesuits' Professed House on Rue Saint Antoine in Paris. The upper part of the reredos, the Apotheosis of St Louis, is in the Rouen museum.
A surviving feature of a high altar
The Presentation in the Temple was once part of the high altar in the Jesuits' Professed House on Rue Saint Antoine, now the church of St Paul and St Louis. A gift from Cardinal Richelieu, it was set beneath an Apotheosis of St Louis, also by Vouet and now in the Rouen museum. On of the most beautiful in all Paris, the high altar with its four levels stood a full ten meters: the first two levels were occupied by the Louvre and Rouen paintings; the third was a pediment bearing a sculpted representation of God the Father; and the fourth was a tall crucifix. The altar was made of polychrome marble and its sides were decorated with sculptures by Jacques Sarrazin. Like other high altars, this remarkable piece was destroyed at the time of the Revolution.
The presentation of Jesus in the Temple
This episode from Christ's childhood is related in St Luke's gospel. As was customary, his parents took their newborn child to the Temple to present him to the Lord and make the ritual sacrifice of a pair of doves. It was during this ceremony that Simeon announced to the assembly that the child would bring enlightenment to the pagans, adding to Mary, in a prophecy of Christ's sacrifice, that her heart would be pierced by an arrow. Vouet opts for a pyramidal arrangement set against a colonnade suggesting the architecture of the Temple. The limpid warmth of his palette glows in a golden light that emphasizes the lyrical harmony of the poses and the oblique lines that dominate the composition.
Vouet and religious painting
On his return from Rome in 1627 Vouet gave religious painting in Paris an unprecedented lift with the innovations he had picked up in Italy. Adopting and reworking the reredos concept, he created a harmonious mix of architecture, painting and sculpture in the three high altars he offered the French capital between 1628 and 1640: at St Nicolas des Champs, using a technique very similar to that of his Italian works; at St Eustache, where he displays all the Baroque verve of his mid-1630s style; and at St Paul and St Louis (c. 1640), where an element of restraint makes itself felt. Of these monuments to the glory of God only the first has been totally spared by time; of the other two there remain only the paintings.
The Presentation in the Temple
Church of St Paul and St Louis, Paris
Oil on canvas
H. 3.93 m; W. 2.5 m
Royal Academy collection
The painters of Louis XIII
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