Zoomable Image of The Tribute Money, 1817

The Tribute Money, 1817

Sir George Hayter (1792-1871)

The Tribute Money, 1817

Sir George Hayter (1792-1871)

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Oil on canvas


46 x 66 in (117 x 170 cm)


The Dukes of Bedford, Woburn Abbey; By descent to Hastings 12th Duke of Bedford; His sale Christie’s January 19th 1951 lot 179 Bt Jacobs; Sotheby’s London November 14th 1993 lot 105; Sotheby’s London November 1995 lot 113


British Institution 1825 no.61

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, Downton Castle) dated to 1815, at the very beginning of his Italian apprenticeship, also recalls Guercino explicitly in its style and subject, and it is clear that early in his career Hayter was impressed by the expressive possibilities of the Baroque manner. The figures in the present painting display the dynamic physique and pictorial rhetoric of the style that conveyed its message by an assault upon the viewer’s visual sense. The interplay of gesture and glance between the group conveys unspoken the sense of the narrative that it illustrates.

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 Rome. Either of two answers, yes or no, would have been damaging, the former would have established Christ as a cipher before the Roman state and the latter as a dangerous rebel. His well-known response ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s’ (Matthew 22:21) trod effortlessly between the twin perils making him obnoxious neither to the authorities nor to his followers.

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 Woburn until 1951 when it was sold at Christie’s.

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