The details in the icon come from the apocryphal Protevangelion Jacobi or Book of James datable to 145 AD. The feast of the Virgin’s Presentation, which falls on 21 November, is one of the five Marian ‘Great Feasts’. Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna are on the lower left and five of the seven virgins holding tapers at the lower right. The occasion depicted is a Christian adaptation of the ancient Jewish custom of presenting a male child to a priest at the temple soon after birth. The priest Zacharias opens the gates to the Holy of Holies as the child Mary steps in. She was one of seven virgins each holding a candle, set to spin skeins of wool of different colour. Mary was given the royal purple that would become the veil of the temple. Mary subsequently ascends the stairway where she is ‘fed by angels’ (Detail 1).2
Our icon displays Cretan or Ionian Islands influences found throughout the Greek Orthodox world in the Ottoman period. From 1204 Crete had belonged to the Venetian empire and was the leading school of icon painting after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Following this influence our painter omits the traditional iconography showing a seven stepped stairway and a curtained baldachin in favour of a more western composition (Fig. 1). Here we see the apse of a church, depicted in a somewhat naturalistic perspective. Despite these Westernising features the style and technique – dense red, blue and green colours, dark under-panting of the faces and hands – point to North-Western Greece or Bulgaria. This icon is from the same iconostasis as the Greek Pentecost (No. 1 in this catalogue). The whereabouts of the other panels from this iconostasis are unknown.