Thursday, January 31, 2013

St Mary of the Candles

Luis de Morales (1512 - 9 May 1586) ("El Divino")
La Presentación de Jesús en el Templo
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
Oil on panel
146 cm x 114 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

"El Divino" painted almost exclusively religious works. Although Morales created altarpieces and large scale religious narratives, he was and is most celebrated for his work as a devotional painter.

He and his work reflect the fervent spirituality of Spanish society of his time. His art is that inspired by the Council of Trent

The key is his desire to seek emotional involvement of the viewer with the figures being depicted and the actions the figures are seen performing in the works. 

The viewer is invited into the painting. We are invited not merely to spectate but participate and meditate

His works were often meant to be aids to meditation. He gives pictorial form to the written works of the Spanish mystics

A frequent topic of his compositions is the Virgin and Child. In this case the subject is the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, what is still a major Feast of the Church although in times gone by one of the great Feasts properly and earnestly commemorated

It was known as Candlemas, literally St Mary of the Candles, a  quarter day, a legal term day, a day for the beginning of term in the Universities

In France it was and is known as Chandeleur, in Italy Candelora and in Spain Candelaria.

The event it depicts is described in Luke 2: 22 - 39
22 When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,  
23 just as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,"  
24 and to offer the sacrifice of "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons," in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.  
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him.  
26 It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.  
27 He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,  
28 he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:  
29 "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word,  
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,  
31 which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,  
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel." 
33 The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;  
34 and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 
"Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted  
35 (and you yourself a sword will pierce)  so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." 
36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,  
37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.  
38 And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.  
39 When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. "

Joseph and Mary act in accordance with the Law. Mary goes to the Temple to seek Purification in terms of the Law. Mary brings two pigeons to be offered in sacrifice. It is the offering allowed to the poor. The ransom is paid. The child is redeemed. Simeon prophesies a future sacrifice, Christ, who will pay the ransom so that Israel can be redeemed

Mary is the Mother who  presents her Son to the Father at the Temple

Simeon describes the infant Christ as the “Light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:32). Thus the light, thus the candles, thus the pure white linen on which the child is laid  in the painting 

Simeon is a man of the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, a priest of the Temple. The Old recognises the New Dispensation. 

Luke`s narrative suggests that not only Simeon and Anna have been waiting long for this moment, but even the very Temple itself. The arrival of the Redeemer and to see the very face of God himself