Rembrandt returned to the subject, "Presentation of Jesus in the Temple" at least 5 times from 1627 to 1654, two paintings, three etchings.
The subject is the biblical story of Simeon. Jesus was still an infant when Joseph and Mary took him to the temple to be presented to God. There they were approached by Simeon, a devout old man who recognised the child as the Saviour and praised him to God.
The most famous of these works was in 1631 when he was about 25 and still living in Leiden. Later that year he moved to Amsterdam. This painting is the high point of Rembrandt’s Leiden years: it represents the sum total of his artistic abilities at that
Most of his paintings are in very dark tones out of which his figures seem to appear to the foreground. Rembrandt was the master of dark and light and most of his pictures are made in this style of struggle between dark and light, night and day, sorrow and joy.
The key to the picture is how carefully and delicate the figures are painted, even those in the darkest part of the painting. The beautiful contrast, between the light on the central group and the soft dimness of the remoter parts of the cathedral, illustrates a style of work for which Rembrandt was very famous.
Our eyes are drawn to the very emotional Simeon, eyes aglow. As with the priest, his figures are often elongated in this period. The pictures is framed by the two figures behind Mary and Joseph in dark contrasting with Mary’s blue and Simeon’s shimmering robe.
Rembrandt adhered fairly closely to the biblical text. Simeon, with the infant Jesus in his arms, praises God with upturned face. To his left kneels the surprised Mary. Joseph holds the two doves he has brought along to sacrifice. Simeon praises Jesus as ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles’, which is why Rembrandt portrayed the Christ Child as a veritable source of light
However, the picture is not realistic of the temple. He depicts a Gothic Cathedral with the beggars looking at the Christ-child. They were beggars of Amsterdam, and the men seated in the wooden settle at the right were like the respectable Dutch burghers of his acquaintance. His style featured large cavernous spaces.
Here is a description of this image
"In the picture we find ourselves, as it were, among the worshippers in the temple, looking at the group on the pavement in front of us—Mary and Joseph and Simeon, kneeling before a priest, with two or three onlookers. It is a Gothic cathedral, in whose dim recesses many people move hither and thither. At the right is a long flight of steps leading to a throne, which is overshadowed by a huge canopy. At the top of the steps we see the high priest seated with hands outstretched, receiving the people who throng up the stairway. It was towards this stairway that Mary and Joseph were making their way, when the aged Simeon first saw them, and recognized in the child they carried the one he had long expected. Taking the babe from his mother’s arms, he kneels on the marble-tiled pavement and raises his face to heaven in thanksgiving. His embroidered cymar, or robe, falls about him in rich folds as he clasps his arms about the tiny swaddled figure.
"Mary has dropped on her knees beside him, listening to his words with happy wonder. Joseph, just beyond, looks on with an expression of inquiry. He carries two turtle doves as the thank offering required of the mother by the religious law. His unkempt appearance and bare feet contrast with the neat dress of Mary. The tall priest standing before them extends his hands towards the group in a gesture of benediction. A broad ray of light gleams on his strange headdress, lights up his outstretched hand, and falls with dazzling brilliancy upon the soft round face of the babe, the smiling mother, and the venerable Simeon with flowing white hair and beard.
"There are but few people to pay any heed to the strange incident. Two or three of those who climb the stairway turn about and stare curiously at the group below. There are three others still more interested. One man behind puts his turbaned head over Simeon’s shoulders, peering inquisitively at the child, as if trying to see what the old man finds so remarkable in him. Beyond, two old beggars approach with a sort of good-natured interest. They are quaintly dressed, one of them wearing a very tall cap. Such humble folk as these alone seem to have time to notice others’ affairs.”