Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a Dutch master who ranged across printmaking, painting and draughtsmanship and had a particular interest in dramatic biblical scenes. His etching of Christ driving the money changers from the Temple (Matthew 21:12-14) was influenced by Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut image (c. 1508) of this scene and also by a general sixteenth century interest in the metaphorical symbolism of the purification of the Temple. The Temple had come to be seen as a symbol of the Church’s own need for purification, through condemnation of heresy and through internal reform.
In this lively etching, Christ is depicted as the central figure from whom all the other action flows, as in the El Greco image of this scene. Unlike Dürer, who lights the scene from a candle above Christ’s head, Christ is illuminated here by light which emanates from his raised hand. People and animals scatter all around in the face of Christ’s anger—note the man being pulled along by his own cow on the right hand side of the image, which suggests that Rembrandt was perhaps inspired by the Johannine version of this episode, in which Christ finds merchants selling cattle, sheep and doves, in the Temple alongside the money changers.
In the background, a religious ceremony continues uninterrupted, presided over by priests. In the foreground one of the money changers looks up at Christ in desperation—a very human moment amid the chaos.
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