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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.
Other late medieval and Renaissance depictions of circumcision in general show antipathy towards Judaism; caricatures show the procedure as being grotesquely cruel and the mohel as a threatening figure; Martin Luther's anti-Judaic treatise of 1543, On the Jews and Their Lies, devotes many pages to circumcision.
This is typical of the early depictions, which avoid showing the operation itself.
At the period of Jesus's birth, the actual Jewish practice was for the operation to be performed at home, usually by the father, and Joseph is shown using the knife in an enamelled plaque from the Klosterneuburg Altar (1181) by Nicolas of Verdun, where it is next to plaques showing the very rare scenes (in Christian art) of the circumcisions of Isaac and Samson.
Circumcision soon became rare in most of the Christian world, except the Coptic Church of Egypt (where circumcision was a tradition dating to pre-Christian times) and for Judeo-Christians.
Perhaps for this reason, the subject of the circumcision of Christ was extremely rare in Christian art of the 1st millennium, and there appear to be no surviving examples until the very end of the period, although literary references suggest it was sometimes depicted.
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Both in this respect and in terms of finding a place in a pictorial cycle, consideration of the circumcision put it in a kind of competition with the much better established Presentation of Jesus; eventually the two scenes were to be conflated in some paintings.