The subject, taken from the apocryphal Gospels – specifically that of the Proto-Gospel of James, describes a time in the life of the Virgin when she was three years old and was taken by her parents to the temple to be dedicated to God. In order to go up to the Altar of Holocausts, which was outside the Sanctuary, it was necessary to climb up fifteen steps corresponding to the fifteen Gradual Psalms (also called the cantica graduum) that were chanted by the People of Israel when they went up to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. The Virgin climbed them alone without the help of her parents, as Juan de Sevilla shows in this work.
Sevilla has given clear expression to this highly scenographic composition of a spiral staircase soaring upwards until it reaches the doors of the temple where the High Priest appears in order to receive the Virgin. The effect of the spiral is muted by the prominence of the steps which constitute the focus of the canvas in a show of pictorial resonances reminiscent of Alonso Cano, since their profile and delineation recall those of Cano in a picture on the same subject in the chancel of Granada Cathedral.
Neither the figures of the woman and child in the foreground and the poor cripple on a landing near the top, nor the faces of St. Joaquín and St. Anne at the bottom right of the canvas, are strangers to Sevilla’s catalogue of work. Nor is the scenographic conception of the painting, which has to be directly related to the work on the same subject in the Prado Museum, in which the figure of St. Joaquín has an identical profile. It reveals the quality achieved by this outstanding disciple of Cano who had his own personality and high standards, and is a worthy subject for a monograph.
Another element to be borne in mind is the type of signature, on a piece of paper on a step, showing his surname, “Sevilla”.