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The Tribute Money


The Tribute Money

  • Date: 1516
  • Style: High Renaissance
  • Genre: religious painting
  • Media: oil, canvas
  • Tag: Christianity, Jesus-Christ
  • Dimensions: 56 x 75 cm
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The Tribute Money (Italian: Cristo della moneta – literally Christ of the coin) is a panel painting in oils of 1516 by Titian, now in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, Germany. It depicts Christ and a Pharisee at the moment in the Gospels (Matthew 22:15–22, Mark 12:13–17, Luke 20:20–26) when Christ is shown a coin and says "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's". It is signed "Ticianus F.[ecit]", painted on the trim of the left side of the Pharisee's collar.

It is possibly the earliest representation in art of this scene, which had a personal significance for Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, who commissioned it.

The subject is very rare in art, and some authorities have said that this is the first representation in art. The novelty is explained by the special significance of the subject for the patron, who is presumed to have suggested it. With one level of appropriateness, it was created for the door of a cupboard or cabinet containing the collection of medals and ancient and modern coins of Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. In the following years the duke became a very important patron of Titian, partly because he was impressed by this first commission.

At another level, the story had a political relevance. Duke Alfonzo's territories were partly in the Holy Roman Empire, and partly in the Papal States, giving the subject a particular meaning to him; the trap set for Christ by the question was one that Alfonso had been living in for some years. At the time the painting was produced he had been excommunicated and deprived, at least in theory, of some of his territories by the Papacy, after not following the papacy when it changed sides in the War of the League of Cambrai. For most of this period he was opposed to the papacy, which had been aggressively expanding the Papal States, and wanted to absorb the Duchy of Ferrara (as it eventually did when Alfonso's grandson died in 1597). For Alfonso the message of the injunction of Christ in the "Tribute Money" episode was probably that the Papacy should concentrate its attention on church matters, as opposed to expanding its territory. He included part of the gospel text of the episode on his gold coinage.

Unusually for an early Titian, the painting can be dated with confidence, as Titian and two assistants or servants spent some five weeks staying at Alfonso's Castello Estense in Ferrara from 22 February 1516 until the end of March. Titian normally painted on canvas, but the original use of the painting as a door necessitated the panel support here.

It is Titian's earliest signed painting, and was perhaps signed to show he was not a court painter, as well as advertising his name in a prominent court outside Venice and its territories. The location of the signature on the pharisee's collar may support it being a self-portrait (see below), with the signature "identifying the subject like the inscription below the profile portrait on a coin".

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