About Quinten Massys
Leuven 1466 – 1530 Antwerp
His last name is also spelt Metsys or Matsys.
Painter of religious subjects and of portraits, genuine and satirical ones.
It is said to Massys started working as an ironsmith. According to Karel van Mander Massys turned to painting when, during sickness, he was too weak to work at the smithy.
In 1491, aged 25, he settled as a Master of the Guild of Painters in Antwerp. It is not known whom he studied painting under in Leuven.
His career coincides with the growing importance of Antwerp, while Bruges lost its position as prime harbour and business centre of Flanders.
About our composition
This composition belongs to the caricature or grotesque paintings made by Massys holding striking original faces with a deeper satirical meaning.
There is no fully autograph painting by Massys known of this composition.
Two very good versions are given to the workshop of Massys by Dr. Larry Silver of the University of Pennsylvania and by Dr. Maximiliaan Martens of the University of Ghent:
- one from the Doria Pamphilj Collection in Rome;
- a slightly better and more complete version sold at Christie’s London, 7/07/09. Both experts thinks that the Master himself might have been involved in the invention and possibly in the execution of this painting.
As to the prototype of our composition, it could have been a lost/destroyed painting, or a drawing or a cartoon made by Massys.
About our painting
Our painting holds, just as both other versions, latin inscriptions on the books:
- “ff vetus” meaning “old”;
- “codex” meaning “book”.
But it also holds a date on the small white label under “vetus”: 1516. Does this date refer to the date of the original model?
The two tax collectors wear old-fashioned, 15th century chaperons. To contemporary viewers they must therefore have looked rather silly.
In contrast to the “tax collectors” alternatively attributed to Marinus van Reymerswael or to Quinten Massys, of which over 60 versions exist, of our painting I was able to find only the two mentioned other versions.
About the office of tax collector
The public office of tax collector was in those days auctioned off, rented to private individuals. The tax collector had to pay to the government a stipulated amount of money, whatever he made on top of that was his gain.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a rare, late 16th century version of a satirical composition from the first quarter of the 16th century by Quinten Massys, of which the prototype is unknown.