by Alexandra Tuschka
Massys, already one of Antwerp's leading artists during his lifetime, often painted portraits of bankers, tax collectors and merchants. This painting, done in 1514, is one of his most famous works.
The moneychanger here in the picture is intently checking the weight of the coins. Meanwhile, his wife on the right is leafing through the pages of the prayer book in front of her. She is looking over at her husband. In the foreground and background are various utensils with high symbolic content. The pearls in front on the table, as well as the orange in the shelf speak for the wealth of the two. In the convex mirror in front, we see a window in the shape of the Christian cross. This reminds us of the presence of God.
But the mirror can also be interpreted as a symbol of the fragility of human life. The scale, which the money changer holds in his hand, is not only a tool, but also stands for justice. By depicting various materials such as glass, metal and the mirror surface, the painter was also able to demonstrate his skill. These detailed still life elements are typical for the Netherlands of the 16th century.
In the 17th century, a biblical quotation was added to the frame of the painting: "You shall have proper scales and proper weight stones," it reads. This inscription is a clear appeal to the viewer - to remind him of the just and responsible use of money.
Quentin Massys - The money changer and his wife
Oil on wood, 1514, 71 x 68 cm, Louvre in Paris