El Greco was a Greek (Cretan) painter who trained in Venice and then moved to Spain in the 1570s. He is well known as a visionary painter of religious scenes, with a style prioritizing colour and light over form. He was in many ways ahead of his time and one of his signature features was his elongated, non-naturalistic figures.
El Greco painted many versions of this scene of Jesus driving the money-changers from the Temple (Matthew 21:12–14), an atypical moment in Jesus’ usually non-violent ministry. This is an early version, from around 1570 CE, during his Venetian period. As such, the anatomy of the figures and the composition is more in the Italian Renaissance style than his later versions, in which Christ is more elongated and seems to exude light (as in the National Gallery version, from c. 1600). The composition is divided into two halves around the central figure of Christ, who stands with his whip poised above the group of money-changers on the left. This is a moment of great movement and energy. On the right are the ‘righteous’, commenting on the event.
The image is part of an extensive artistic tradition using Jerusalem and the Temple as the backdrop for the depiction of a key New Testament narrative. The Temple itself is classical in style, replete with Corinthian columns, while the surrounding buildings owe more to Venetian architecture than to what we know of the historical Jerusalem of the first century CE.
In a rather odd detail in the bottom right corner, El Greco has painted the four artists that he considered to be masters of the Renaissance (Titian, Michelangelo, Clovio and Raphael).
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