TEMPLE TANTRUMS: ‘Christ cleansing the Temple’ by an unknown Netherlandish artist (1563 – 69); Kadriorg Art Museum, Tallinn

 We are in the Dutch provinces of the 1500’s. The Dutch Revolt (1568 – 1648) and the Reformation (1517 – 1648) brought a strain to the role of the artist. The Protestant insurgency and iconoclasm claimed violence all over the provinces. Churches were sacked, stained glasses crushed and images destroyed. As a result Dutch art witnessed a sharp shift from the sacred to the secular.

Artist like Jhernoimus Bosch, Lucas Van Leyden, Jan Sanders van Hemessen and Bruegel along with a host of other painters and printmakers started picturing pedlars, peasants, beggars, courting couples, money changers and other local figures in their art works. This gave rise to the ‘genre’ movement that led to the development of Dutch painting in the Golden Age. The humorous portrayal of the ‘uncivilised man’ in art was a call to reflect on human virtues and vices.

The essence of this genre is experienced through today’s painting in consideration. The subject is that of ‘Christ cleansing the Temple.’ The theme of the painting itself is revolutionary. Promoted by the Council of Trent, it symbolized the purification of the Catholic Church post the Protestant Reformation. The work is executed by an unknown Netherlandish artist who imitates the nuances set by the famous painters Jhernoimus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

The painting beams with stories, scary characters, mysterious symbols, amusement, proverbs, word plays, moral philosophy and the psychology of 16th century Antwerp. A huge temple structure in a mystical style dominates the foreground of the painting. An apocalyptic clock with a hand shaped dial on the left wall of the Temple strikes 12 and thus announces the arrival of the hour of judgement.   

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