The Presentation of Christ in the Temple is hardly mentioned in scripture. In fact, it is only mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (2:22-39). According to the gospel, Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth to complete Mary's purification after childbirth. Bringing Jesus into the temple, the Holy Family encountered Simeon the Righteous. The Gospel records that Simeon had been promised that 'he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.' (Luke 2:26). Simeon prayed the prayer that would become known as the Canticle of Simeon, which prophesied the redemption of the world by Jesus. The prominence given to St Simeon stems from some ancient liturgical texts where he is described as ‘he who has seen god,’. For this reason, he is known in Old Slavonic as Bogoprimyets, the ‘God-Receiver’. A particularly interesting element of the icon of the Presentation is the fact that the prophetess Anna stands behind Simeon, rather than with the Holy Family.
There was a revival of Russian icon painting among the émigrés and in 1927 the Icon Association was founded in Paris. This was part of a larger post-1917 revival of the religious traditions of Orthodoxy and shows the endurance of Russian spiritual values amongst the exiles.1 It is important to note that this revival had begun in Russia in the late nineteenth century due to a new appreciation of icons which were for the first time being cleaned of centuries of grime and soot with icons being produced to emulate older styles. Before this it was only the Old Believers who had maintained the older styles of icon painting. One can draw stylistic parallels with a fifteenth century icon of the Presentation kept in the Tretyakov Gallery, which uses the same white lines and bright colours on the architectural features, which gives the icon a sense of luminescence (fig. 1).
The shift, which began in pre-Revolution Russia, continued in Paris. These icons exemplify the movement away from the sentimental and westernised style that had become common, to the more traditional Russian form of icon painting, in turn influenced by Byzantine models. One of the key locations for this revival was l’Institut Saint-Serge. Some of the key figures were Father Gregory Krug, Father Sergei Bulgakov and Sister Joanna Reitlinger. Krug was an émigré priest in France. He was involved with the brotherhood of St Photios and in the renaissance of the Byzantine iconographic tradition. Father Gregory was brought up in the Lutheran tradition – the religion of his father - but his mother was a Russian Orthodox Christian. He belonged to the same group as Leonid Ouspensky. One can see on the example below the white light-reflexes that Fr. Gregory and Ouspensky used on their icons (fig. 2). Indeed, when comparing their icons to ours one can see the visual links, suggesting this icon and 29 are issued from this milieu.
This icon and number 29 are ‘devoid of that unhealthy type of fear which so easily leads to lifeless copying, but nor is it disdainful of the Church’s wise traditions,’.2 The painter of our icons has successfully emulated older icons while also bringing new life in his depiction of the event, which gives the icon both a staid and vivid quality. It represents a continuation of the Holy Tradition of icon painting.