Circumcision of Jesus  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Circumcision of Jesus is an event from the life of Jesus of Nazareth according to the Gospel of Luke, which states in verse 2:21 that Jesus was circumcised eight days after his birth (traditionally January 1). This is in keeping with the Halakhah, Jewish law which holds that males should be circumcised eight days after birth during a Brit milah ceremony, at which they are also given their name. The circumcision of Christ became a very common subject in Christian art from the 10th century onwards, one of numerous events in the Life of Christ to be frequently depicted by artists. It was initially seen only as a scene in larger cycles, but by the Renaissance might be treated as an individual subject for a painting, or form the main subject in an altarpiece.

The event is celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision in the Eastern Orthodox Church on January 1 in whichever calendar (Old or New) is used, and is also celebrated on the same day by many Anglicans. It is celebrated by Roman Catholics as the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, in recent years on January 3 as an Optional Memorial, though it was for long celebrated on January 1, as some other churches still do. A number of relics claiming to be the holy prepuce, the foreskin of Jesus, have surfaced.

An influential book by Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (1983, 2nd edition 1996), explores the explicit depiction of Christ's penis in art, which he argues became a new focus of attention in late medieval art, initially covered only by a transparent veil in the early 14th century, and by the second half of the century completely uncovered, and often being the subject of the gaze or gestures of other figures in the scene. This emphasis is, among other things, a demonstration of Christ's humanity when it appears in depictions of the Madonna and Child and other scenes of Christ's childhood, and also a foreshadowing of Christ's Passion to come in the context of the Circumcision.

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