Made in preparation for Champaigne's painting, measuring 435 x 430 cm., now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Arras (B. Dorival, Philippe de Champaigne 1602-1674, II, Paris, 1976, no. 17).
In 1637 Michel Le Masle, Cardinal Richelieu's secretary and a Canon of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, commissioned Phillippe de Champaigne to design fourteen cartoons for tapestries illustrating the Life of the Virgin to decorate the choir of the cathedral. The artist executed only two of the cartoons, The Birth of the Virgin and The Presentation of the Virgin both now deposited by the Louvre in the museum at Arras. The remaining twelve cartoons were completed by Charles Poerson and Jacques Stella. The tapestries were woven between 1638 and 1657 and were then installed in Notre Dame. They were removed in the 18th Century and are now in the Cathedral at Strasburg. The tapestry of The Presentation of the Virgin is illustrated in Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674). Entre politique et dévotion, exhib. cat. Lille, Musée des Beaux-Arts and Geneva, Musée Rath, 2007-8, no. 16.
It has often been said that the design for The Presention of the Virgin marks an important evolution in Champaigne's oeuvre, since in it he seems to abandon many of the Flemish influences that characterized his early work, and began to embrace a more rigorous French Classicism (A. Brejon de Lavergnée, in Lille and Geneva, 2007-08, op. cit., p. 119) although Dorival has noted that parts of the design do show the influence of Northern prints. The reappearance of the present drawing sheds some new light on the problem as the figures do indeed evoke Van Dyck's drawing style, and the inspiration of Northern print models is more in evidence than in the painted composition.
The figure of the merchant seated at a table to the left of the composition is derived from Dürer's woodcut of the same scene in his Life of the Virgin series (Bartsch 81). The woman with a basket on her head in the background, omitted from the painting, is inspired by a figure visible on a plate by Frederick Bloemaert after his father Abraham Bloemaert (B. Dorival, op. cit., I, fig. XV), while the beggar to the right, also absent from final composition, is borrowed from Cornelis Cort's engraving of The Presentation of the Virgin after Taddeo Zuccaro (L. Pericolo, Philippe de Champaigne, Tournai, 2002, p. 102). The changes made by Champaigne between this drawing and the final design suggest that he was purposefully trying to eliminate the Northern borrowings, removing elements to create a simpler and more self-consciously 'Classical' composition.
A drawing much closer to the final design is in the Louvre (B. Dorival, op. cit., II, no. 18). Drawn in black chalk and highly finished, it has sometimes been thought to be a copy after the painting, but it might simply be a presentation drawing for Michel le Masle, made once the Northern elements in the present drawing had been removed. It is of the same format as the present drawing, and includes some elements, particularly in the architecture in the background on the right, that can be found in both drawings but not on the painting.