March 6th 2021

El Greco Christ driving the Traders from the Temple about 1600 Oil on canvas, 106.3 x 129.7 cm Presented by Sir J.C. Robinson, 1895 NG1457 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG1457

“The Purification of the Temple”, El Greco, 1600, National Gallery, London.  This scene was rarely painted in its own right before the Reformation.  It was shown as one of a series of scenes from the Passion.  After the Council of Trent, it gained a new significance as it came to symbolise the Church’s own internal reform.  Popes Paul V (1555 -9), Pius IV (1559-5) and Gregory VIII (1572 -85)  had chosen this subject for the obverse side of their commemorative medals.  El Greco’s first version, painted in Venice (c.1570), which is now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, has strong echoes of the work of other artists.

https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.43723.html    However, he returned to the subject at least three, if not four times, during his career.  Comparing these versions is like watching his ideas distil as much detail is stripped away.  Earlier versions by El Greco and by others paid attention to showing the location as the portico of the Temple.  But here the pillars and grand architecture give way to the human figure.  People cover the lower two thirds of the canvas.  At their centre, like a crimson flame,  the figure of Christ divides them into the traders on the left and the disciples on the right, echoing the final judgement.  The traders recoil from the whip of cords held aloft in Christ’s raised hand.   But with his other hand , Christ blesses the disciples on the right as they calmly engage in conversation.  Above the traders a grisaille relief of Adam and Eve being expelled from the garden is a reminder of human sin.  On the other side,  the sacrifice of Isaac is shown above the disciples, reminding the viewer of the true remedy for sin, which is the sacrifice of Christ.  Both traders and disciples are shown up close and in bright colours, so that they contrast with the grey stone of the building behind.  A new and vivid Temple is coming into being, made from living stones.   The whole thrust of the work is to demand a personal response from the viewer, whose eyes constantly are returned to the Christ, who, zealous and like  “a spring ready to uncoil,”  asks our response.


Edinburgh Catholic Chaplaincy

The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.

The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.

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