Liberal Arts Blog — Money Changers in Western Art: Quentin Matsys, El Greco, and Theodore Rombouts
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Today’s Topic: Money Changers in Western Art: Quentin Matsys (1466–1530), El Greco (1541–1614), and Theodore Rombouts (1597–1637)
As a devout young Marxist I was particularly fond of Biblical passages in which Jesus laid into the rich, the merchants, and money changers. I quoted them with relish. Today, images of Christ with a whip beating up cowering figures are less appealing than they used to be. In the following post, two contrasting images of money changers — first, a domestic scene of a money changer and his wife from Antwerp (by Quentin Matsys) and second, two depictions of Christ “cleansing the Temple.” Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
THE MONEY CHANGER AND HIS WIFE (1500) — QUENTIN MATSYS (1466–1530)
1. The Dutch economy got a big boost in 1492 when the Jews were expelled from Spain.
2. Antwerp became the economic capital of Europe in the 16th century.
3. Matsys “is regarded as the founder of the Antwerp school of painting, which became the leading school of painting in Flanders in the 16th century.”
CHRIST DRIVING THE MONEY CHANGERS FROM THE TEMPLE (1609) — EL GRECO (1541–1614)
1. “And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen.”
2. “And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.”
3. “And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade”. (John 2: 13–16)
NB: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)
CHRIST DRIVING THE MONEY CHANGERS FROM THE TEMPLE (1628–1637) — THEODORE ROMBOUTS (1597–1637)
1. Rombouts was born in Antwerp, spent some time in Rome, and returned to Antwerp where he became deacon of the Guild of St. Luke (for painters and other artists).
2. Why were merchants in the Temple anyway? They were selling animals for Temple sacrifices. What about money changers? They “existed to convert the many currencies in use into the accepted currency for paying the Temple taxes. Greek and Roman currencies had to be converted to “Jewish and Tyrian money.”
3. Did Jesus do this once or twice? Apparently both St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas agreed on this one: he did it twice. Others disagree.
NB: Is this violent act consistent with the idea of a peace-loving Jesus? Is it an historical event or is it just meant as a metaphor? Opinions have differed since the 2nd century! In the Middle Ages Bernard de Clairvaux would use these passages to justify the Crusades — comparing the pagans to the merchants. “Pope Francis sees the Cleansing of the Temple not as a violent act but more of a prophetic demonstration.”
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