National Museum of Ancient Art
Oil on oak panel
H: 213.5cm, W: 169cm
Portugal, unknown location
We are witnessing the representation of one of the most important episodes of Jesus’ childhood, in which, according to Jewish law, the Child gains its identity.
The scene has been re-created in the interior of a Renaissance-style temple where the Holy Family and several figures cluster around the table where a priest is about to carry out the circumcision.
Covering the altar there is a white towel, in turn, this covers a carpet, of which only the border, filled with “vine scrolls”, palmettes and foliage, is visible. This variant in the use of carpets in a painting makes this a very interesting document.
Alongside its use as a floor-cover in paintings, when its symbolism is associated with dignity and spatial boundaries, carpets were used widely as a cover for altars in churches as well as in civil settings as furniture covers, as several Portuguese inventories attest.
In the Circumcision, a so-called knotted “Holbein” carpet can be seen. It is put to the same use here as the carpet represented by Hans Holbein, the Younger (1497/8‒1543), in his famous portrait The Ambassadors, which thereafter gave this specific compositional structure the name “Holbein”.
Technical information provided by José Alberto Seabra de Carvalho
Transferred from the convent absolved in 1834
Stylistic analysis and material dating
Hallett, Jessica and Pereira, Teresa Pacheco, The Oriental Carpet in Portugal: Carpets and paintings, 15th‒18th centuries, Lisbon: MNAA, 2007.
Ana Kol "The Circumcision" [db_in_citation_dca] 2019. http://carpets.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?itemId=object;DCA;pt;Mus31_D;22;en
Prepared by: Ana Kol
Translation by: Lily Chadwick
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: PT1_022