Tuesday, August 3, 2010

GOVT 490 - Writing Assignment #3

The painting I chose is Tribute Money by Italian Renaissance painter Masaccio, painted around 1427, in the Brancacci chapel of the church of Santa Maria della Carmine Florence, Italy. The size of the painting stands 255cm tall and 598cm wide and emphasizes three-dimensional space and solid, realistic human forms. The building on the right side of the painting is a display of Masaccio’s zeal for mathematics and geometry. More light is shown on the right side of the painting and shadows in the background to the left. Masaccio used a concrete way to paint the different objects in the painting and the use of linear perspective, which focuses on Christ’s head. There is a continuous narrative linked by the three figures of St. Peter, Christ and the tax collector. The figures are lined up but most of the painting is arranged in a more circular manner.

The history of the object’s creation is that Masaccio painted it as private commission for the Brancacci family’s funerary Chapel in Florence. The story of the image is taken from the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 17:24) in the New Testament and the central part of the painting shows what happens when the tax collector asks Christ to pay his dues. The Roman tax collector (with no halo) is demanding money from Jesus and the twelve apostles who don’t have the money to pay. In the fresco, the story of Jesus, Peter, and the tax collector is told in three distinct moments within the same fresco: the center of the painting is part 1, the left, part 2, and the right, part 3. The center of the fresco is where my eyes get drawn to first shows that the temple tax is required of Jesus by the tax collector. The tax collector is addressing Peter in the painting, hand gesturing in the manner of asking. Jesus points toward the lake and instructs Peter how to get the money. Peter then retrieves the money from the mouth of the fish in the lake. One the right side, you see Peter deliver the four-drachma coin to pay the tax collector with the tribute money.

The concern about money in the painting is over the dispute about taxes. There is also the connection of Peter getting money from the fish as Florence’s wealth coming from the sea. Masaccio shows how the tax does not go to the church instead goes to the Roman Empire. Peter questions Jesus about why he had to pay Rome, Jesus responded saying that man is to pay what is due to the rightful owner even if the circumstances are contrary to the Bible. By Masaccio showing the different scenes shows the conflict over having to pay a tax. The argument is over possession and what belongs to whom, Jesus tells Peter that we must respect authority. The connection in Tribute Money to the Biblical story is meant to explain the legality of paying taxes.

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