The Presentation in the Temple is recounted in the the New Testament (Luke 2: 22-39). Mary and Joseph bring the child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to dedicate him to God where he is received by Simeon. God had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. The pair of turtledoves at the foot of the altar have been presented for sacrifice.
The painting was made for Bartolomeo Fabri of Centoon, and was one of the artist's most celebrated works. It was returned to Guercino as part settlement of a debt and hung above his bed until he sold it in 1660 to the learned Frenchman Raphael Dufresne. The composition, with its clearly defined planes and diffuse light, shows the influence of Domenichino's Roman works.