Saturday, December 19, 2009

Simeon's Song of Praise

Title: Simeon's Song of Praise

Artist: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 99 × 80 cm

Date: 1669

Location: Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, it is recorded in Luke 2:22-35 that Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"). Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.

The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."

Jesus' parents are law-abiding Jews. They show up at the temple to perform sacrifices associated with the wife's purification after birth. Such a ceremony occurs forty days after the child's arrival. The Spirit of God directs this scene, because he had revealed to Simeon that death would not come until he had seen the Lord's Christ. Promise, fulfillment and God's direction stand behind the prophecy of this old saint.

In this rendition, Simeon is sincerely happy that he, as an old man who is about to die, may hold the future Messiah in his arms. The Holy Spirit had led Simeon to the temple. The subject must have fascinated Rembrandt, because he made at least two paintings and several drawings about it. This painting focuses entirely on Simeon's emotion and leaves out almost all other figures. There also is no reference to the place of action. The contrast with his great 1631 painting could hardly be stronger. This may very well have been Rembrandt's last painting. It was found unfinished in his workshop the day after he died. The woman in the background was probably added afterwards by someone else. Some think she is Mary, others say she must be the prophetess Anna.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (July 15, 1606 – October 4, 1669) was a Dutch painter and etcher. He is generally considered one of the greatest painters European art history. He exhibited a complete knowledge of classical iconography, which he molded to fit the requirements of his own experience; thus, the depiction of a biblical scene was informed by Rembrandt's knowledge of the specific text, his assimilation of classical composition, and his observations of Amsterdam's Jewish population.

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