Christ arrives at the temple to find it full of money-changers and traders. Christ says, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them’ (Matthew 21: 12–15).
Jacopo Bassano has depicted both parts of the story. Christ first appears lashing a whip to clear the crowd and livestock. He appears again in the background healing people. The money-changer grasping his carpet-covered table has often been thought to be a portrait of the painter Titian. If so, it would suggest that Bassano was making a cutting comment about the senior artist’s love of money.
The subject of the Purification of the Temple was rare in Italy at that time but Bassano returned to it many times. He had a special interest in painting animals, so it must have appealed to him. This picture appears dark because, over time, the upper paint layers have become translucent revealing the priming layer of nearly black paint beneath.
This painting, dating from the last decade of Jacopo Bassano’s life, is full of drama and movement. The brushwork applied in rapid strokes of thick opaque paint is typical of Bassano’s dynamic and impastoed late style.
The Purification of the Temple is described in all the Gospels. Christ arrives at the temple to find it full of money-changers and traders. Goats, cows, and sheep are being offered for sale. In Bassano’s painting, a woman in a yellow dress kneels beside baskets of doves and eggs. A man carries a chicken and a rabbit tied to a staff. Christ ‘made a scourge of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables' (John 2:14–15). The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.
Jacopo Bassano has depicted both parts of the story. Christ first appears in the left foreground lashing a whip in the air to clear out the crowd and the livestock, who surge towards the door. The frightened boy with his hands raised expresses the drama of the moment and relates to the figure of Saint John in Jacopo Bassano’s The Way to Calvary. A spaniel leaps away over a pile of bowls.
The money-changer grasping his carpet-covered table on the right has often been thought to be a portrait of the painter Titian. If so, it would suggest that Jacopo Bassano was making a cutting comment about the senior artist’s love of money. The chief priests and scribes watch in indignation from a raised platform on the left. Christ appears a second time in the background, healing the blind and the lame.
Although the original colour and texture of the paint has been preserved where white was used some colours have faded, for example the red jacket of the man behind the cow, and the copper greens have darkened. The picture generally has a very dark appearance because, over time, the upper paint layers have become translucent revealing more of the priming layer of nearly-black paint beneath.
The subject of the Purification of the Temple was rare in Italy at this time. Jacopo Bassano had painted an earlier large canvas (Prado, Madrid), and would have known an imposing picture of the subject by Stefano Cernotto in a courtroom at the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi in Venice. Bassano returned to the subject of the Purification of the Temple many times. He had a special interest in painting animals, so Saint John’s account of the event must have appealed to him. It is unusual for other artists to give such prominence to cattle, sheep and goats in depictions of this scene.
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