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Marcello Venusti, The Purification of the Temple

Key facts
Full title The Purification of the Temple
Artist Marcello Venusti
Artist dates born 1512-15; died 1579
Date made after 1550
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 61 × 40 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1885
Inventory number NG1194
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Purification of the Temple
Marcello Venusti

The subject of the Purification of the Temple is taken from the New Testament (Matthew 21: 12–13). Jesus drove the traders out of the Temple in Jerusalem, accusing them of turning a house of prayer into a den of thieves.

Venusti painted numerous small-scale copies of drawings and frescoes by Michelangelo. No finished drawing by Michelangelo is known for this composition, but there are surviving small sketches of the figures. In Venusti’s painting, although the drama is centred on Jesus and the crowd of figures, the majority of the composition is devoted to the architecture, for which there is no known drawing. The pillars are modelled on famous antique examples in the Basilica of St Peter’s in Rome, which were believed to have come from the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.

In 1549 Venusti was commissioned by Pope Paul III to decorate the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican, however the Pope died and the project was suspended. Our painting may be a small version to commemorate this never executed fresco project.

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