Christ Cleansing the Temple
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Bernardino Mei
Italian, about 1655
Oil on canvas
41 x 55 1/2 in.

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Upon seeing the Temple of Jerusalem turned into a marketplace by moneychangers and traders in sacrificial animals, the whip-carrying Jesus bursts out in anger. With an animated composition laid out on diagonals, and monumental figures reeling, Bernardino Mei's canvas aptly portrays Christ's righteous fury.

Mei borrowed the half-length figures and their unique, unidealized faces from Caravaggio's naturalistic followers. From the Baroque whirls of Gian Lorenzo Bernini's sculpture, he took the multiple twisting movements, then added a silvery light to harmonize the colors.

Baroque artists often painted this subject because of its tumultuous action and intense emotion. Italians of the 1600s tended to interpret the theme as symbolic of the contemporary reform of the Catholic Church.