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Photograph: Carlos Monteiro,  © MNAA/ADF

Name of Object:

The Circumcision


Lisbon, Portugal

Holding Museum:

National Museum of Ancient Art


c. 1550

Type of object:




Museum Inventory Number:

181 PINT

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Oil on oak panel


H: 213.5cm, W: 169cm

Workshop / Movement:



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”.

How date and origin were established:

Technical information provided by José Alberto Seabra de Carvalho

How Object was obtained:

Transferred from the convent absolved in 1834

How provenance was established:

Stylistic analysis and material dating

Selected bibliography:

Hallett, Jessica and Pereira, Teresa Pacheco, The Oriental Carpet in Portugal: Carpets and paintings, 15th‒18th centuries, Lisbon: MNAA, 2007.

Citation of this web page:

Ana Kol "The Circumcision"  [db_in_citation_dca]  2019.;DCA;pt;Mus31_D;22;en

Prepared by: Ana Kol
Translation by: Lily Chadwick
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: PT1_022

On display in

MWNF Galleries

Paintings Religious life


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