Purification of the Temple El Greco Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Purification of the Temple, also sometimes known as Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, would inspire several paintings by El Greco. The piece in front of us here was completed in 1600 and can today be found at the Frick Collection in New York City, USA.

The theme involves Christ removing people from the temple because of how he disapproved of their behaviour. He felt that faith was being neglected within the building, and that it was instead being used for commerce, even thievery. In order to make this episode memorable, the story explains how force was required to cleanse the temple of these people who had developed unhealthy behaviour. This suited El Greco's artistic style which regularly used drama and energy within his paintings, particularly in the latter period. This piece arrived in the year 1600, at which stage he had evolved as an artist after living in Crete, Italy and Spain. He was at his most expressive by this stage, and can we see that in the example shown in front of us here. It was the contrasting tones of light and dark that would run alongside each other which was a trademark of El Greco's approach, though he retained elements from his early work within this piece too.

The influence of Venetian art, with its bright tones of blue, yellow and purple are present within Purification of the Temple and these had existed within his oeuvre ever since the earliest of works. The use of classical architecture was also much more common in earlier work but is necessary here because of the content of the theme. We can see a small window through which elements of the city are included, but the structures are not as dominant within the composition as might have been the case in his work from previous decades. The tiled grid-like flooring helps to create the feeling of perspective, though most is covered in this artwork by a whole flurry of figures who cover the foreground completely. Christ himself is placed centrally, with his arms swirling in the air as the others figures recoil in shock, before then feeling from the temple.

The artist produced many different versions of this theme. A reproduction exists in the National Gallery in London, whilst alternative interpretations can be found in Washington and Madrid. The Spanish capital actually hosts a large amount of his work, with Toledo also serving him well with a museum set up in his name. El Greco regularly employed his assistants to roll out copies of his paintings as well as slightly more unique versions to be sold to local churches in Spain who regularly sought his paintings. He was unable to keep up with their requests, and needed others to help out, particularly as he became older. His son would lead the studio at one point and was considered technically solid as an artist, albeit without the genius or innovation of his father.

Purification of the Temple in Detail El Greco