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The Tribute Money by Peter Paul Rubens

Autor:   •  October 9, 2018  •  Essay  •  2,200 Words (9 Pages)  •  920 Views

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The Tribute Money, by Peter Paul Rubens
The Legion of Honor, Gallery 14

This formal analysis is being written about The Tribute Money, by Peter Paul Rubens. He started to create this work of art in 1610 and it was completed in 1614. The medium he chose was oil on a wooden panel and the size is 56 3/4 x 74 ¾. Rubens is known for his style of blended Italian Renaissance and Early Baroque. The treatment of space within the scene, keeping the figures in the foreground, create a visual impact for the viewers and allows Rubens to portray the emotional intensity of the biblical narrative to the viewers. The most distinctive elements of this painting are his portrayal of movement within the scene and the use of light to highlight the figures and bring additional emotion to the narrative.

The Pharisees and the Herodians, two groups who typically have opposing views on paying taxes, decide to work together to ask Jesus a question. They manage to catch Jesus outside of the Temple and ask him, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?[1]’ This was a rhetorical question, meant to put Jesus out of favor with the public or in trouble with the Romans. What we see in Rubens’ painting is the moment after Jesus, while holding a coin, raises it to heaven and exclaims, ‘Render unto Caesar then that what is Caesar’s and to God that what is God’s’. Rubens chose to depict the moment the crowd reacts, and it is as if the moment is frozen mid-action. The phrase has since become used as a summary of Christianity and the governments relationship. The Tribute Money is an expressive image capturing powerful emotions.

Rubens used his skill to arrange several figures in one scene. The realistic reactions and gestures from the figures gives the painting an impression of movement. Next to Jesus stands one of his Apostles, in front of them are the Pharisees and Herodians. There are nine overlapping figures in total. Their reactions range from disbelief to frustration and anger. Each of the figures show a unique sense of emotion and contribute to the atmosphere of drama. Their forms each show clear details, making them each individual figures as the viewer looks at the scene. Viewer’s eyes are continuously drawn along the lines created by the figures in motion. Jesus holds the coin in his left hand on the right side of the painting. Eyes are immediately drawn to the main figure but quickly move around the scene to take in the strong emotions created by his words. We can see how Ruben created movement in the painting by directing viewer’s eyes with the gazes of the figures.

The Tribute Money has an asymmetrical composition with the main figure off to the side as opposed to typical Renaissance paintings that used the pyramid to create a sense of harmony and balance. By using asymmetrical balance in this painting, Rubens was able to create a balance around the center of the scene. All of the figures are in a semicircle around Christ’s hand. This composition is dynamic and there is a strong sense that the painting is in motion. This tends to result in viewer’s eyes being bounced around the scene along the lines and colors the artist uses. The figures are overlapping but positioned in a way that makes it easy for viewers to look at each expression without being distracted. Jesus is positioned on the right-side and influences the rest of the painting because of his placement. The sense of motion and emotional charge of the scene creates a theatrical composition. The reaction of the figures and intense emotions they are expressing occurs around the center of the scene. Rubens created unity in the scene with the repetitive emotions displayed by the figures and balanced that by arranging the figures in an imbalanced, unsteady manner. The contrast between light and shadow with the rhythm of emotion throughout the scene accentuates the importance of the main figure.


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