Sir George Hayter (1792-1871)
The painting is a tour-de-force of inspired reference to the painting of such masters as Guercino and Caravaggio...
The Tribute Money was painted in 1817 when the painter was studying in Rome, where he stayed between 1816 to 1818. The strong influence of Guercino discernible in this painting was clearly felt by the painter during this formative period. The Prophet Ezra (Lennox Collection,
The story would have been familiar to an early nineteenth-century audience and remains recognisable to a modern age less conversant with scripture. Other artists when illustrating this episode of Christ’s teaching frequently chose to show Christ responding to the Pharisee who tried to trick him by asking whether the devout Jew was obliged to pay taxes to
Hayter illustrates the succeeding verse 27, in which Christ instructs Peter ‘Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.’ In place of the Pharisee who appears, for example, in Titian’s treatment of the earlier episode, there is a company of Christ’s disciples, and a single figure of a Roman soldier to represent the monolith of Roman government to whom the tax is payable. Hayter has chosen, therefore, to show the instance of a miracle, the extraction of the coin from the fish’s mouth, which provides an opportunity to show various stages of astonishment in the faces of his subjects. Christ alone is impassive and didactic, as he looks reassuringly to the apostle in the left foreground, gesturing with amazement at the coin. This, from the colour of his cloak, is most probably Peter’s brother Andrew. Peter stands,of course, at the right producing both the fish and the coin, whilst the Roman soldier displays an expression of pure disbelief and looks, almost stunned, towards Peter who has just extracted the coin. A further disciple expresses is awe with a lowered head and gesture of wonder at the miracle he has just witnessed. In these various characterisations, Hayter has made plain the degree of faith than each man had in Christ previous to the event by the gradation from the Roman soldier’s open-mouthed incredulity to the faithful impassivity of Peter.
As an exercise the painting is a tour de force of inspired reference to the painting of such masters as Guercino and Caravaggio. Not only are the impressive physiques of Christ’s peasant followers reminiscent of the saints and martyrs of the Baroque, with their massive, wrinkled bald heads but the ingenious perspectives in their profiles are intended to show that the young painter has a complete command the technical skills that the secento painters deployed with such ease, and is not attempting any idle pastiche. The painting was acquired in the nineteenth century by the Dukes of Bedford and continued in the collection at