Faversham, Kent (†Canterbury) Early C.14
Adoration of the Magi
The Presentation in the Temple
The scenes shown at the left, and the right below are, in terms of continuous narrative, the final ones in the central tier of the Faversham painted pillar (the Adoration of the Magi, shown here further below, is in the lowest tier of the pillar, along with the Annunciation & Visitation). The Presentation in the Temple is very seldom found in extant English wall painting – the only other example on this site is the bady damaged one at Kelmscott.
Joseph is at the far left, wearing the kind of round, shallow-crowned hat sometimes seen in medieval art on other Jews who had a significant (and not necessarily benign) part to play in the various Gospel stories. He holds a round basket in the crook of his left arm, steadying it with his right. Tristram¹ could see traces of at least three doves, and not merely the pair referred to in Luke 2:24, but there is almost no detail left now.
The Presentation spans three faces of the pillar; Mary and the infant Jesus are shown here next to Joseph in the photograph at the left and also below right, with Simeon in the Temple. The painter must have been forced by the limitations of space to ‘wrap’ the infant Jesus – the most important figure in the scene – around the angle formed by the two faces of the pillar, but he has managed this with considerable skill, as indeed he does elsewhere on the pillar.
Simeon extends his hands across a carefully-draped altar to receive the Child, who may himself be raising a hand in blessing. The gracefully-painted folds of Mary’s mantle show well, and the draped altar itself might well be an accurate reflection of what a typical English 14th century altar looked like (the interior layout and furnishings of a synagogue or temple would have been quite outside the experience of almost everyone).
Here the narrative sequence in the central tier ends, and the next part of the story, the Adoration of the Magi, is painted on the lowest tier of the pillar, after the Annunciation & Visitation. The gospels of Luke and Matthew are conflated in the process, as they often are in Infancy Cycles. All three Magi are still visible, although one kneeling to offer his gift (far left) is damaged. The Virgin next to him (second left) has a crown but no halo and holds the Christ Child on her lap. The other two Magi, shown below at the right, are much clearer, although some details recorded by Tristram have been lost – the Magus at the far right once held a sceptre terminating in a fleur-de-lys in his left hand, for example.
These painting complete the Infancy Cycle at Faversham (there is no Flight into Egypt, and no space on the pillar for one). The rare glimpse of Simeon makes the Presentation in the Temple one of the most important scenes on the pillar, but the entire painted scheme at Faversham is one of the most significant medieval artefacts left in England. The Annunciation & Visitation, Nativity & Annunciation to the shepherds are already here, and the Passion Cycle, which occupies the top tier of the pillar, is forthcoming.
Website for St Mary of Charity, Faversham
¹ Tristram III, p.171