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Renaissance Top 48: Tribute Money


Masaccio, Tribute Money ca. 1427


Felice Brancacci, of the Brancacci family (rich, powerful family during this time), commissioned the frescoes. It is unclear why Brancacci chose this particular passage from the New Testament for the family chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. Some scholars suggest that it was a commentary on the catasto (state income tax) that was under consideration at the time. But, because the Brancacci's were very wealthy, it is unlikely that they would support such a tax. Also, the fresco was in a private chapel with a limited audience which makes it less likely that Brancacci was making a political statement. 

The financial and political situations of the time were cause for Masaccio to paint what he did, but to paint how he painted is a different story. Like Donatello and Brunelleschi, Masaccio was a pioneer and incorporated linear perspective into his paintings.

(Masaccio gained an outline for the painting from Donatello, a claim supported by Vasari. Vasari states that he traded Donatello a dinner for an outline for the painting but this seems as likely as his assassination by poison. It is more probable that Masaccio had a general idea, at least of the semi-circle around Jesus, and was inspired by the painting Four Crowned Saints by Nanni da Banco in the Church of Orsanmichelle.) This information definitely needs a citation. This is questionable information not found in your text. Mrs. White


The painting is told in a three part narrative which starts from the middle. In the middle we see a tax collector asking for money from Jesus and his disciples. The disciples begin to panic, but Jesus says to look in the mouth of the fish for money. As the story continues we see one of the disciples, St. Peter, go to the left of the painting and he is leaning down to take money out of the mouth of the fish. Lastly, we see to the right of the painting St. Peter paying the tax collecter with the money he found from the fishes mouth.  



Fresco Painting

8' x 20' 

Intertwined within its narrative, Masaccio uses perspective, chiaroscuro, cast shadows and a humanistic touch to bring the characters to life. The vanishing-point across Christ's head enables the artist to depict light and detail and bring it to a new realm. The vanishing-point draws the viewer's attention to Christ's head first of all. From there Jesus and Peter are pointing to the left where then Peter goes and picks the coins from the fish's mouth. Lastly, the viewer observe the right hand side of the painting where Peter pays the tax collector.


The main function of Tribute Money would be to depict the scene from the Gospel showing the miracle of St. Peter finding the tax money in the mouth of a fish. And Masaccio was experimenting with new techniques of the time. 

To adorn the private chapel of the Brancacci Family.