Heliodorus (to the right, lying down) is sent by the king to steal the treasure from the Jewish temple. In the background the high-priest Onias is praying for the prevention of this disaster.
All of a sudden a terrifying knight appears seated on horse-back who sends the robber packing, aided in this sacred task by heavenly angels. On the opposite side of the painting, Julius II,
carried on his litter, intensely follows the events. Onias, at the altar, also has Julius's features, and his presence in this scene raises the likelihood of its contemporary relevance; there
is, in fact, good reason to associate the painting with the rebellious cardinals who, encouraged by the French king Louis XII , had called a council at Pisa to depose Julius in 1511, but it
ended i n conspicuous failure.
The composition of the painting, which appears as a logical consequence of the frescoes in the Segnatura, reads from left to right, with the eye carried sharply and rapidly by the gesticulating figures to the raised center and then out again by the rearing horse and racing angels. The stagelike construction of the space in The School of Athens, in which figures are strung out across well-defined planes, is still followed, but these neat divisions have been decisively punctured, especially at the extremities, where figures pour through the side aisles of the temple.