Art of the Gospels, Part 10, Jesus’ Conflict with the Jewish Leaders

P1080735The prophecies which Jesus had been making regarding his arrest, death, and resurrection become actions as Passover approaches.  First he must enter Jerusalem.  Triumphal entries of kings was a tradition in Rome.  About 100 hundred triumphal arches were errected in Rome to commemorate various leaders returning from conquests and defense of the empire.  Some of these had been built prior to Jesus’ time, but many  in the 1st and 2nd centuries after his death.  While I am not aware of such traditions in Jewish culture of the time, in the larger context of Jesus’ ministry being both for Jews and Gentiles, such triumphal entries into a capitol city would be understood.  But, Jesus did not come to Jerusalem in a chariot with a retinue of warriors.  He sent his disciples to find a donkey.  Crowds of followers and the curious lined the streets that he travelled.

P1080301Entry of Christ in Jerusalem in the style of Domeico di Michelino places Jesus on the donkey in the center of a fantastic landscape.  His disciples, glowing with halos follow behind him.  Children and town folk stand before him, placing palm branches before his route.  In the distance, city walls suggest his destination.  On the left, the walls are red;  On the right, white walls with towers.  Does the red suggest brick structures, or blood and death?  Does the white suggest marble, or purity?  Do the red walls suggest Jerusalem?  Do the white walls, with what may be an obilesk before it, suggest Rome?  If you believe Dan Brown, in Angels and Deamons and The Da Vinci Code, the Illuminati and Knights of Templar must be behind all this (watch out for that red-headed tart hanging around Jesus). Of course, if you wish to stay with the conspiracies recorded in the Gospels, notice that only 11 of the 12 men following Jesus have halos.  Guess who the un-haloed disciple is…

Upon entering Jerusalem, Jesus goes to the temple. There he finds all sorts of commerce being conducted, unrelated to the activity of the faith. Money changers and food and animal vendors have set up shop. He drives them away, condemning them for turning a place of prayer and teaching into a den of robbers.


I recall a painting of this scene from my childhood. I was surprised that I could not find the image, or a similar one, in my review of art in Rome. However, on a recent stroll through the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. I found the painting. It is by El Greco. I will stretch the boundaries of this series to present it here.

Having been reared in a Protestant tradition, my assumption was that the lack of representation of the Cleansing of the Temple in Rome had to do with the Protestant concept that the Catholic church was, with its sale of Indulgences and seat of power, what needed to be cleansed from Christianity. However, upon reviewing the information on the El Greco painting, I discovered that most of the painters (half a dozen or so) who used this theme were Catholics who were suggesting that the Protestants were what needed to be cleansed from Christianity. Most of these paintings were produced during the Counter-Reformation, after the Counsel of Trent. A specific item in that counsel banned begging & selling stuff on the steps of churches. Enough church squabbling, back to the art.

P1080697El Greco, a 16th century Greek artists working in Spain, positions Jesus in the center of the painting, swirling with one arm raised about to strike a cat-of-nine-tails at the crowd around him. The people turn and fall, mostly to the left side of the painting, tumbling over each other, in heaps of robes, muscular torsos, and bear breasts. Hmmmm. Nothing in the Gospel accounts mentions women having trouble keeping their tops on. Must be artistic license.

El Greco included numerous details of the food court in the foreground of the painting. In the center is a man with a basket of oysters and rabbits. These were forbidden foods by kosher laws, demonstrating how far people would go to violate a sacred place. To the far left a woman has a cage of doves, usually a symbol of the Holy Spirit. But, in this case their are confined and pedestrian. On the step to the right is a partridge, which represents the folly of wealth. Further over is a lamb and wine skin, bound to a stick, foretelling of Jesus’ death. Above this is a child looking up and pointing at Jesus, for the Gospels state that the Jewish leaders plotted how to kill him when they heard children proclaim his wondrous teaching. Those leaders may be the shadowy men walking in the archway at the far upper right corner.

Okay, guys, stopping looking at the bear-breasted women and get with the symbolism!


About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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4 Responses to Art of the Gospels, Part 10, Jesus’ Conflict with the Jewish Leaders

  1. Barneysday says:

    Your descriptions and knowledge are incredible. Its an area that I know virtually nothing about. Thanks for the education

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Thanks. More to come. Next time you are in SF, you may recognize some of the stories should you wander through the De Young museum’s sections of Italian art. I find that the more I learn, the more observant that I become. And, something I passed by previously has more to show me. What amazes me is that the artists put all those images and symbols on the canvas before I even wandered by.

  2. This is the homework you give yourself before you go on a trip, right?

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Actually, this is the type of reading that I do anyway. Our travel destinations just organize what I happen to decide to read for a while. And, as it is, I have half a dozen more books on Roman history, art, and philosophy that I will have time to read for now. Guess, we’ll just have to cycle back some day.

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