Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple ca. 1570
Unknown Netherlandish artist in a manner of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) and Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1526/30-1569),
Oil on panel.
91 × 150 cm.
Kadriorg Art Museum, Tallinn, Estonia.
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.
The iconography of the painting Christ Driving Money-lenders from the Temple is characteristic of the mentality that dominated in 16th-century Antwerp. It illustrates the moral philosophy of the Renaissance Humanist Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466–1536) who often used satire to advocate the teachings of Christian morals. The Humanist movement took also great interest in regional folklore, resulting in the depiction of proverbs, sayings and word-play in art.
The central iconography of the painting is taken from the New Testament. A direct reference is made to the Scriptual passage: „... and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.“ (John 2, 13–17). These words of wisdom can be interpreted in two ways: as a plea for austerity, but if seen in contemporary historical context, also as a criticism against the sale of indulgences.
The message of the painting can be summed up as follow: in the world were material values and mundane pleasures dominate, people live in deception and are doomed. The salvation offered by the faith in Christ’s redemptive death will remain out of reach for them.
The general imagery of the picture reminds that of Hieronymus Bosch (1450–1516), whose art enjoyed a great revival in the mid 16th century.
The Provenance Story
The painting was handed over to the Art Museum of Estonia – at that time, the Tallinn State Art Museum –in 1955 by the permanent representation of the Estonian SSR in Moscow (Fig.1 - the identification number of the Embassy).
Before the establishment of Soviet rule, the Embassy of the Republic of Estonia, which previously owned the painting, had been located in the same building.
The embassy acquired the painting in 1939-40 from Albert Org, a former state official.
Org came into possession of the painting in 1920-1, at which time he was chairman of the committee for repatriation in Petrograd.
While owned by Org, the Tallinn painting remained in the Estonian Consulate General in Leningrad between 1920 and 1930 (Fig.2) from where it was moved to Moscow.
Information regarding the Tallinn painting’s previous whereabouts is scant, but pieces of an Italian-language newspaper on the back of the painting, which were revealed in the course of the 1999 conservation work, suggest the painting was in Italy during the second half of the nineteenth century [Fig. 3 - fragment of the Italian-language newspaper].
The Tallinn painting is the most detailed of the four known versions of the composition, yet the painting has figured the least in the field of international art history. This is for understandable political reasons – under the conditions of a closed society throughout the twentieth century, the repute of the painting was confined to the borders of the Soviet Union.
In 2001, the painting was exhibited at an extensive Hieronymus Bosch exhibition at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, and was thereby reintegrated into the Bosch art legacy.
Infrared reflectography (IRR) showed that all four of the analysed Boschian paintings had extensive underdrawing and these underdrawings are clearly the work of different hands. For example, while the underdrawing of the Tallinn painting is in most parts very neat and careful the underdrawing of the Copenhagen painting is extremely loose and sketchy.
IRR also enables us to see alterations that the artist has made to the composition during the process of painting. For example, in the underdrawing of the Tallinn painting the hand of the apocalyptical clock (on the wall to the left of the temple) points optimistically to 11 o’clock but in the final painting it shows that the hour of judgement has arrived – the hand points to 12 o’clock.
The X-radiograph of the Tallinn painting reveals that the original painting is generally well-preserved. There are minor losses in parts of the paint layer, mainly in the areas of panel joints and near the lower edge. Later overpaint on the Tallinn painting, most likely from the 19th century, is also clearly shown by X-radiography. There is one small area of paint loss – covering part of the small, half-naked child in the lower-right corner – where the paint appears to have been intentionally scratched off; this was probably been carried out at the same time as the application of overpaint in order to make this area more ‘proper’.
The aim of microanalysis is to identify the constituent materials of a painting, including the stratigraphy of the paint layers, as well as providing clues about the methods of the painting’s manufacture. Such clues may allow conservators and conservation scientists to ascertain information about the dating and attribution of a painting, and to compare the use of painting materials with different paintings by known artists (see the video).
The paintings were analysed, first by microscopic inspection of the paint surface, and then by cross-sectional analysis.
Cross sections were viewed using a binocular microscope at a range of different magnifications, and some samples were investigated further by electron microscopy.
The comparative microscopic examination of cross section samples from the Tallinn, Copenhagen and Glasgow paintings reveals the relative similarity of the colour palette for each painting in their use of 16th-century pigments such as vermilion/cinnabar, red lake, copper resinate/verdigris, azurite, lead-tin yellow, ochre, lead white, chalk, carbon-based black.
Typically, the underlying panel of a 16th-century Netherlandish painting is covered with a relatively thick layer of white ground made up of chalk and animal glue.
In cross section, a thin layer of imprimatura, which is often lead white in oil, may be seen. The coloured passages were built up in different ways depending on the pigments.
Dendrochronology is a method used to identify the formation time of growth rings in wood by measuring the distance between the rings.
Good growing conditions produce wide growth rings, while poor growing conditions produce narrow rings.
The pattern formed by tree rings of varying thickness is therefore typical for a certain period.
The seasonal changes in our northern climate cause the very clear growth pattern typical for oak.
In dendrochronology it is possible to determine the precise felling date of the tree down to the exact season of the year in which the tree was felled.
Such a precise dating however requires that the bark of the tree or the sapwood has been preserved.
The sapwood lies just below the bark and includes the most recent annual ring formed in the wood.
Unfortunately, in the production of panels for paintings the sapwood was often left out.
Depending on the geographical origin of the wood, a prediction for the probable number of growth rings of sapwood which has been removed can be added to the existing rings, which then gives an approximate determination of the actual felling date, in addition to the earliest possible felling date.
By adding the many measurements into a computer program which already contains chronology curves for a specific geographical area, the tree can be dated very accurately.
Chronology curves are created by examining both ancient archaeological timber and existing trees from a particular geographic area.
Dendrochronology can be used only on trees that form visible growth rings, for example oak.
Tropical wood types such as poplar can not be dated by this method, since the more uniform tropical climate in the south does not produce clearly defined growth rings.
Northern European painters of the 16th century mainly used oak as a painting support, while poplar was more widely used by painters south of the Alps.
Dendrochronology is therefore far more common for dating paintings in northern Europe compared with southern Europe.
In the Netherlands, where there were lack of natural resources but great demands for art works, wood for panel painting supports was imported mainly from the Baltic region.
According to dendrochronological analysis the Tallinn panel is dated AD1560-1575 and consists of oak that probably originated in Poland.
Tracing Bosch and Bruegel: Four Paintings Magnified is an exciting pan-European art detective scenario investigating four Netherlandish paintings from the 16th century.The busy compositions all present ‘Christ chasing the moneylenders from the temple’ and reuse popular iconography influenced by the famous painters Hieronymous Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
Read and see much more here: