This canvas, which is very probably the earliest known work by Bassano, was first attributed to him by Peter Humfrey, whose view was endorsed in 2008 by both Alessandro Ballarin and Bernard Aikema. Dated circa 1531-2 by Ballarin in his very full entry in the 2010 exhibition catalogue (pp. 59-61), the picture was executed while the artist was still working under the aegis of his father, Francesco Bassano, il vecchio (c. 1475- c. 1539), but the solid, stocky types, which recur in other early works, and the chromatic range, as well as the treatment of the architecture, are all expressive of the young artist’s own personality. The figural types and taste in colour correspond closely with those of the Flight into Egypt of 1534 at Bassano, while—as Humfrey noted—the architecture anticipates that of the Oxford Christ among the Doctors.
The subject is relatively unusual in Venetian painting, although over a generation later it would be taken up by El Greco, on whom Bassano himself was a formative influence. Bassano himself painted a fresco of the subject in 1535 for the church at Cartigliano, now lost, which was described as ‘la istoria del flagelo de Christo che chazó for a del tempio queli che vendeve et comprava’ in the Bassano’s Libro Secondo (L. Puppi, Il libro secondo di Francesco e Jacopo dal Ponte, Bassano, 1992, p. 268 (f.125v)). The fresco was no doubt a development from the composition of this picture in the way that the painter’s later treatments of the Flight into Egypt were evolved from the picture of 1534. This canvas expresses Jacopo’s debt to earlier painting in the Venetian terra firma, but shows—as Aikema noted in 2008—that he must also have had access to prints by the German Little Masters (Kleinmeisters); it is a work of fundamental importance for the understanding of the emergence of one of the most influential of Venetian cinquecento painters.