This small panel was once part of an altarpiece depicting the life of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, along with a Nativity scene now in the Rijksmuseum and a depiction of the Annunciation, now in the Glasgow Art Gallery. Forty days after the birth of a male child, Jewish mothers were expected to be purified in the temple through an offering of two turtledoves or pigeons. Jewish law also declared that the firstborn of every living thing was to be sacrificed to the Lord, but children could be redeemed with the payment of five shekels.
The Gospel of Luke reports that the “Purification of the Virgin” and the “Presentation of Christ” took place at at the temple at the same time. Here, the high priest Simeon holds the infant Jesus in his arms while Mary gives the birds to be sacrificed—an allusion to Christ’s eventual death.