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Luca Signorelli, The Circumcision

Key facts
Full title The Circumcision
Artist Luca Signorelli
Artist dates about 1440/50 - 1523
Date made about 1490-1
Medium and support Oil on canvas, mounted on board, transferred from wood
Dimensions 258.5 × 180 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1882
Inventory number NG1128
Location Room 11
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Circumcision
Luca Signorelli

Following Jewish tradition, Christ was circumcised when he was eight days old (Luke 2: 21). Seated on his mother’s lap, Christ reaches out to the mohel, the man who will perform the surgery, who holds a fine blade. The vibrantly coloured marble floor tiles are designed to attract the viewer’s attention, and the white borders lead their sight towards the central focus of the image, the infant Christ.

The subject was chosen by the patrons, the Confraternity of the Holy Name of Jesus, who were connected with the church of San Francesco, Volterra. The scene was an appropriate focus for their devotion, as it was when the infant Christ was named Jesus.

Christ as we see him now is the invention of a different artist, Sodoma, who was working in Volterra in the late 1530s; we don't know why he painted over Signorelli’s version.

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