The Tax Collectors
106.8 x 81.7 cm (42 x 32 ¹/₈ inches)
This composition clearly enjoyed widespread and enduring popularity in the mid-sixteenth century and beyond, for some sixty versions of it are known today, of varying degrees of quality. All may have been influenced by a lost picture by Jan van Eyck, and all bear some relationship to the two famous paintings of The Banker and his wife painted by Quinten Massys in 1514, and the Tax gatherers by Marinus van Reymerswaele, both of which is also in the Louvre. More recently, however, Larry Silver has argued that another version today in the Liechtenstein Princely Collections in Vienna can be attributed to Quinten Matsys himself and considered the prototype for this design. Certainly all of Reymerswaele's signed works, with dates ranging from 1521 to 1547, betray a strong influence from Matsys. Many still-life elements in them, such as his own Banker and his wife (1538, Madrid, Escorial) recur in the versions of The Tax Collectors. Little is known of his life however. He may be the 'Marinus de Seeu Schilder van Romerswalen' (Marinus the Zeelander, painter, of Reymerswaele) recorded by Karel van Mander, but if he ever settled in Antwerp he is not recorded as a Master there1.
This painting is a good example of the evolution of the many variants of the original design, and is probably among the later versions of it. In common with most of these, the two figures now sit alongside each other, wearing archaic but much simpler headgear, and are surrounded by a different set of ephemera, including a sand box, jewels and a moneybag. The present painting belongs to a particular group of variants, generally of slightly larger size, in which a parrot replaces the pair of scissors hanging on the wall behind the two men. The best examples of this particular group are those in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, and in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.2 The present picture differs from these only in the omission of the money bag lower right, the shape of the sandbox and in the disposition of the quill case lower left. The curious ball of wool in the foreground is also omitted from the Moscow version and the placing of the seals on the wall and shelf behind is slightly different in each. Campbell lists other related versions in Berlin, Detroit, and formerly in the Hart collection, Pittsburgh and Mallow Castle, County Cork.3
One further aspect of the relationship between this panel and those in Windsor and Moscow also serves as a possible illustration of the original meaning of all these panels. This is the book or ledger in which one of the 'Misers' or tax collectors is writing. In most versions of the composition this is the drawing up of an account of municipal revenues (on beer, wine etc.) from imposts let out to farm. As far as can be read, the inscription in this panel and that in Moscow also follow this, with the inscription being in Dutch. In the Windsor version, however, the list in the ledger is replaced by record of a payment made in various currencies. This enables us to date the Windsor version to in or after 1548 and before 1551, when the exchange rates noted in the ledger came into force.4 This would indicate that versions of the design continued to be produced for at least ten to fifteen year after Marinus' presumed death around 1545–46. Such changes in the texts might suggest that they were intended to be interpreted in different ways, but in this case, as in the majority of versions, the picture was clearly intended as an attack on the greed or avarice of money changers and tax gatherers. As such men were paid percentages of the revenues they collected (and thus had every incentive to extract every last penny from their charges) it is not difficult to understand why this composition became so popular so quickly. In some versions, such as that in the Museo Stibbert in Florence, the moral message is made even more explicit, and an admonitory text based on Luke 12: 15–21 specifically rails against the mortal sin of avarice.
The Dutch text depicted in the book reads as follows: "Dits den ontfanck... Item die...alle is waerdich... die seven ma.nden... Item die ...is waerd... Somma t'samen" This has been roughly translated into English: "These then received... Ditto...all is worth... That seven months... Ditto...is worth... Sum all together"
N.B. - For the most complete recent discussion of the Louvre painting and the evolution of this design see P. Ackroyd, R. Billinge, J. Kirby and L. Campbell, 'The two Tax Gatherers by Marinus van Reymerswaele: Original and Replica', in National Gallery Technical Bulletin, vol. 24, 2003, pp. 50–64; see also L. Campbell, The Early Flemish Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, Cambridge 1985, pp. 114–18, under no. 72 and more recently L. Campbell, National Gallery Catalogues: Sixteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings with French Paintings before 1600, London 2014, pp. 648-660, under NG 944.
1 See L. Silver, 'Massys and Money: The Tax Collectors rediscovered', in Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art, vol. VII, no. 2, 2015, pp. 1-23, reproduced fig.1; Campbell 1985, p. 116, version E, fig. 40 (as follower of Reymerswaele); see also L. Campbell, National Gallery Cataliogues: Sixteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings, London 2014, pp. 648, 658, under NG 944 and p. 660, n.4.
2 C. van Mander, Het Schilder-Boeck, Haarlem 1604, fol. 261v.
4 For which see K. Jones, L. Porter and J. Scott, Gold, London 2014, p. 72, reproduced in colour; Campbell 1985, pp. 114–18, nos 72 and 72F, reproduced plates 89–90 and fig. 41. The Windsor panel measures 118 x 97.8 cm., and that in Moscow 117.7 x 84 cm.
5 Campbell 1985, p. 116.
6 H. Van Werveke, 'Aantekening bij de zogenaamde Belastingpachters en Wisselaers van Marinus van Reymerswaele', in Gentse bijdragen tot de kunstgeschiedenis, XII, 1949–50, pp. 43–58.