El Greco, Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple

Oil on canvas, 117 x 150 cm
Institute of Arts, Minneapolis

To the right of Christ, El Greco ranges the apostles, representing the New Law. To the left, we see an old man, associated with the Law in Paul’s writings; he is repeated in all four paintings. In El Greco's earliest paintings of this subject, the specific idea of Law is also suggested in the left foreground by a woman with a cage of doves (associated with the ritual of Purification at 40 or 80 days after a child’s birth). She is presented in the manner of allegorical paintings of abstract qualities, and her déshabille associates the Law with the flesh, as Paul does. In these earliest paintings, putti-like boys play in the right foreground. In the very earliest, one of them is playing with coins – again, something associated with the Old Law. In the second, money is represented a bit more subtly, by a coinbox in the lower right of the composition.

The earliest paintings make this point about the Old Law and the New Law in a quite “busy” manner, with lots of figures and lots of symbols to point the mind in the right direction. In the later two paintings, the painter crops the picture and seeks to do the job more subtly. He replaces the dove woman with the coinbox from the second painting; it has fallen off an upturned table.

View El Greco's 1600 version of the same episode
More of this episode in the Gospel

Source: Web Gallery of Art