About five years after his earlier etching on the same subject (ca. 1625), Rembrandt ventured again on the circumcision of the Christ Child. And although the performance contains the same elements, the performance is now completely different. While the earlier version still shows traces of awkwardness and an imperfect control of the technique, this is no longer the case in this new version. In the center of the scene, a priest is engaged in the circumcision of the child, who is again resting in Simeon's lap. They are fully illuminated, while the bystanders, including Mary and Joseph, are more or less in the shade. A high priest towers above all these figures, who, with a staff in hand, looks down on the scene. He gives a monumental effect to the image that makes it rise above the small size of the print.
This etching and the ‘Presentation in the temple’ discussed elsewhere, together with a third etching, depicting Christ and the scribes, may have been the prelude to a series of pictures about the youth of Christ. The way of etching, the image structure and the dimensions are so similar that it seems that Rembrandt indeed had such a series in mind. Such series were not uncommon in printmaking and there are numerous examples to be found that may have inspired Rembrandt, for example among Haarlem artists around Hendrick Goltzius who were still active at the beginning of the seventeenth century. However, Rembrandt did not pursue the idea and made only these three prints.
Much later in his career, in the mid-seventeenth century, he seems to have nurtured such a plan again. In 1654 he again etched a circumcision, now situated in the stable where Mary and Joseph stayed with their child. In style and format, this print is very similar to five other scenes from the early life of Jesus.
Etching, 88 x 65 mm, PK-P-103.159, gift from N.C. the Gijselaar.