The subject of Christ driving the traders and moneychangers from the Temple assumed special significance during the Counter Reformation as a symbolic reference to the purification of the Church from heresy. El Greco has introduced, in the bas-reliefs on the Temple wall, the themes of the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise and the Sacrifice of Isaac, both Old Testament prefigurations of the Purification of the Temple. The figures in the painting are divided into two groups. At left, beneath the Expulsion relief, are the frightened sinners. At right, the believers quietly observe the scene from beneath the Sacrifice of Isaac, an antetype of the Crucifixion.
The theme of the Purification absorbed El Greco throughout his career, as demonstrated by the many versions of this composition that issued from his shop. Although the chronology of El Greco’s work is far from clear, the Frick canvas appears to be one of the later examples. The painting is smaller in size than other similar versions, but it generates remarkable dramatic intensity through the explosive movement and cold but brilliant coloring.
Source: Art in The Frick Collection: Paintings, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996.