The Expulsion of the Money Changers

We found this gem when we visited the Art Gallery of Ontario the other day.   Painted by the bizarrely named ‘Master of the Kress Epiphany’, it is profound, disturbing, theologically challenging and politically dangerous.

The title of the work is “The Expulsion of the Money Changers”.  But it’s clear that the money changers in questions are not being expelled from a Jewish temple but from an ornate gothic cathedral.

Several things struck me about this work.  First, the odd use of perspective.  There are several different vanishing points in the image, which the brain can’t really reconcile.  So before the viewer has even taken in the picture, they have this disturbing sense that something is wrong.

Secondly, the sheer guts of the artist to create it.  When it was created, in the late 15th century, the institutional church was the main patron of the arts, and the sale of indulgences was rampant.  The artist took a huge risk in so directly and obviously drawing a parallel between the cardinals and the money-changers that Jesus opposed.

Thirdly, the willingness of the artist to tackle a political hot-potato.  In the modern art wing of the AGO are some very creative, interesting pieces, but the questions they ask are safe, tame ones, such as ‘what is the nature of perception.’  We need art that is not afraid to ask profound, disturbing questions about power, about politics, about money, and about religion.