Mattia Preti (Taverna, 1613 - La Valletta, 1699)
The Tribute Money
Oil on canvas
123 x 173 cm
The painting represents the conclusive moment of an episode in the Gospel of Matthew (17, 24-27): Christ orders Peter to catch a fish in Lake Tiberias and pay the tax-gatherers of the day with the silver coin he will find in the fish. In composing this work, Mattia Preti was mindful of certain of Caravaggio’s innovations: the light shed on the figure of Christ also falls diagonally across the scene, illuminating the faces of the figures and coming to rest on the details of the fish and coin, so enabling us to identify the characters and the episode depicted. The interlacing pattern of busy hands around the coin becomes a focal point of the composition and immediately captures the viewer’s gaze. With the exception of Christ and Peter, dressed in traditional garments, the other figures wear seventeenth-century dress, so that the scene appears set in the world the painter and consignees of the painting lived in daily. In this painting, Preti reworked the experiences absorbed during his stay in Rome, from Caravaggio’s innovations to the influence of Guercino.