A Brief History of Money and Religion

Giotto, 1304-6, Christ Entering Jerusalem.

The Master of Flemalle (Robert Campin), 1425, Merode Altarpiece. The alterpiece demonstrates the beginning of secular painting with a portrait of the patrons of the piece in the left panel. These patrons are well-to-do citizens, not royalty or church fathers.[8] Their presence in the painting signifies the emergence of a secular culture in which art and money are one and religion is dead.

Rembrandt, 1626, Christ Drives Money-Changers from the Temple. This is perhaps one of the first representations of money in a painting. The subject is ironic since temples were the original treasuries or storehouses for valuables. Exchange is material rather than sacrificial and is banished from the temple.

Rembrandt, 1627, The Moneychanger. Another early portrait of money and commerce.

Chardin, 1739, The Return from Market. Genre painting becomes an accepted art form. Chardin's "The Return from Market" alludes to commerce, not religion, since by this time, commerce relies on money as the means of exchange. Commerce as the subject matter of painting reflects the shift away from religion toward money in culture.

The evolution of secular culture was paralleled in the evolution of money itself. In 1792 fiat money was introduced in the United States. Fiat money ("greenbacks") is paper money not redeemable for gold, and no longer based on a system of weights and measures. Walter Benjamin describes banknotes as "ornamenting the facade of hell."[9]