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Workshop of Giovanni Bellini, 'The Circumcision', about 1500

Key facts
Full title The Circumcision
Artist Workshop of Giovanni Bellini
Artist dates about 1435 - 1516
Date made about 1500
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 74.9 × 102.2 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Presented by the Earl of Carlisle, 1895
Inventory number NG1455
Location Room 29
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Circumcision
Workshop of Giovanni Bellini

According to the Gospel of Luke, Christ was circumcised, like all Jewish baby boys, when he was eight days old (Luke 2: 21). He is shown naked, sitting on a cushion upon a table or altar, clenching his little fists as a priest performs the ritual. His mother, the Virgin Mary, gently props him up; the old man behind is his father, Joseph.

Christ’s nakedness emphasises his vulnerability, and his position on the altar is probably intended to bring to mind a sacrifice – like that of a lamb, part of Jewish religious tradition in this period. In the Gospels, John the Baptist refers to Christ as the ‘lamb of God’, anticipating his sacrifice at the Crucifixion.

Bellini may have contributed to the women’s faces but the texture of the fabrics is not as convincing as in his portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan, for example, suggesting much of the work was done by his assistants.

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