The Tribute Money, 1629
Rembrandt van Rijn
oil on oak
41.8 x 32.8 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 15231)
"Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" ... "Show me the money for the tax." And they brought him a coin. And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." [Matt.22:17-22].
We see the glint of a silver coin in the hand of one of the questioners gathered around Christ. A shaft of light strikes the group, mixing with the divine radiance of Christ, making the natural and supernatural difficult to distinguish. The confusing, dark space is centred on the figure of Christ, mirrored in the column behind him. This is an early painting by Rembrandt, but his fascination with light and darkness is already clear. His use of the loaded brush to describe the light catching the rich brocade on one of the questioner's robes looks forward to his mature works.