Artibus et Historiae no. 73 (XXXVII)

2016, ISSN 0391-9064

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MERYL BAILEY - Punishment as Brotherly Love: Antonio Zanchi’s Expulsion of the Profaners from the Temple and the Venetian Conforteria (pp. 313-334)

The brethren of the Venetian confraternity known as the Scuola di San Fantin provided spiritual comfort (conforto) to prisoners condemned to death, offering them the possibility of forgiveness and salvation. This essay interrogates the relationship between the confraternity’s ideology of punishment and Antonio Zanchi’s Expulsion of the Profaners from the Temple, an important painting commissioned by the Scuola in 1667. After the Reformation, the subject matter of Christ’s expulsion of the moneylenders from the Temple in Jerusalem was usually deployed in Catholic regions to communicate the Church’s commitment to internal reform and its determination to cleanse itself of heresy. However, the circumstances surrounding the commission of Zanchi’s painting suggest that its significance was altogether more complex. The reading offered here first situates the painting within the broader ideology of the Italian conforteria (confraternities that assisted the condemned). In this context, the Expulsion of the Profaners expressed the idea that punishment could be a profound act of love towards sinners. A second objective, equally important, is to demonstrate that the concept of punishment as brotherly love was also fundamental to the governance of the confraternity’s own sinful brethren. Zanchi’s Expulsion was commissioned in a period marked by outbreaks of scandalous behavior on the part of some members that the Scuola’s officers sought to curb. The painting demonstrates how this confraternity, dedicated to correcting sinners and saving souls whether through prescriptive or proscriptive methods, employed images as powerful tools to shape and modulate its members’ behavior and guide them towards salvation.

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