The Comparison and Contrast of
The Tribute of Money and of the Last Judgment
This paper will give an insight as to the similarities and differences of two paintings that are religious in nature, both have a story to tell, and created close to 100 years apart. The first of the two paintings, The Money of Tribute by Masaccio, captures its audience with the great detail put forth into the biblical story it depicts. The second of the two paintings was created by the ever infamous Michelangelo with the creation of The Last Judgment. A brief discussion into the lives of the artist will give a background for a better understanding as to their influences to their art that has captured audiences for hundreds of years and will continue to do so.
The Tribute of Money is located in the Brancacci Chapel, and was created by Masaccio in 1425. According to The Tribute Money this painting is an example of Masaccio’s mature work, demonstrating full accomplishment of his revolutionary new Renaissance style (Par. 3).
Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in the sixteenth century (1475-1564) and is considered one of the greatest artist of all time. Born during the Renaissance Era near Florence, Michelangelo grew up in a home bursting with Neoplatonic and humanistic ideas; he was fortunate because his home also served as a art school (Benton, DiYanni 26). Growing up around the arts had an enormous impact on Michelangelo becoming the well-known and
magnificent painter, architecture, poet, and infamous sculpture, sculpting was his life-long passion. His religious beliefs had an enormous impact on his painting. His religious feelings had always been important to him and we can see a sort of dark, spiritual nature progress throughout his life, especially in his painting The Last Judgment that one of his works done later in his life.
The most obvious similarity between The Tribute of Money, and The Last Judgment is they are both biblical in nature. For example, The Tribute of Money is a continuous narrative with three scenes, depicting a story from Mathew’s Gospel (Masaccio’s Tribute Money Par. 1). Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment is centered around a dominate figure of Christ. There are many different scenes representing biblical images such as, judgment day which gives the painting a great depth of biblical meaning and each scene telling a story all of their own. The main subject of The Last Judgment is a figure of Christ in a glowing “divine light.” The centered figure of Christ is painted as a broad and powerful image although the proportions of Christ’s body are obviously out of proportion, a classical reminder of Michelangelo’s change in his painting style. “His palette grew more monochromatic, and the proportions of his figures grew broader and more menacing”, were according to Ruehring (Ruehring).
The stories the two paintings described are fascinating to follow throughout the entire paintings. The intent of the two painters is to capture audiences by sort of “forcing” the viewer to follow the intended direction through a continuous narrative. They did this with great style;
your eyes naturally follow each scene as was intended. The direction of the eye, the direction and placement of the feet, and the gestures of the characters hands help us to maintain focus
on the main characters in the paintings. The scenes in Masaccio’s The Tribute of Money are linked together by figures of Saint Peter, the tax collector and Christ indicating a biblical sense that God will provide and too representing that the new tax that was put into place was based on one’s ability to pay (The Tribute Money Par 2). The entire episode of The Tribute of Money depicts the arrival in Capernaum of Jesus and the Apostles, based on the account given in Mathew’s gospel (Masaccio Par 1) . “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are Gods” (Benton, DiYanni 13). After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” Peter replied. Jesus said to him, “…so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch, open its mouth, and you will find a four drachma (Christian History Par 1). Masaccio has formed the three different moments of the story into the same scene describing the above. First, the middle of the painting the tax collector is requesting from Jesus money for the payment for the taxes. The viewer’s eyes naturally follow the direction in which Jesus and St. Peter are pointing signaling to Peter to look into the mouth of a fish for the money to give to the tax collector. Peter is pointing with Jesus as if to say “You want me to go over there, to that lake, catch a fish, and remove the money from a fish’s mouth?” To the left, is the next scene, Peter is actually
removing the money from the fish’s mouth. The last scene, to the far right of the painting, shows St. Pete delivering the money to the tax collector.
The Tribute of Money figures were dressed according to their social positions, the tax collector is dressed in a tunic, Jesus and the other individuals all dresses in their standard tunics. By contrast, Michelangelo threw out the traditional medieval wardrobe, where the figures are dressed according to their social position and instead Michelangelo created his own standard. He depicts the figures during the event of The Last Judgment in their entire nudity and the figures are without any indication of their rank.
The visual Renaissance perspective is clear in the Tribute of Money. According to “The Tribute Money” the vanishing point for the linear perspective in this work focuses on Christ’s head. Christ’s head was considered for assisting the viewer in drawing together all aspects of the painting (landscape, houses, and figures) in spatial unity (Par 4). “The figures in The Tribute of Money are individualized not idealized, and are a reflection of Masaccio’s models, real people of the peasant class in Florence” (Benton, DiYanni 14). Masaccio’s figures are constructed through an observational and anatomical approach. The bodies and its draperies are modeled by light, and therefore the 3-dimensional quality was achieved. (The Tribute Money Par 5). For example, the tax collector has his back turned toward us in a very natural, relaxed, and balanced stance. The Tribute of Money is very structured especially in the use of a variety of colors. For example, the dark green that is used in the foreground, to the snowy appearance of the background, and the airy bright blue sky filled with puffy white clouds. On
the other hand, Ruehring describes the colors used in the Last Judgment as being dominated by the tones of flesh and bright blue sky slightly filled with white airy clouds.
Referring to the biblical stories that each of the artist depict both tell an interesting story.
The main focal point of the Last Judgment by Michelangelo is a very broad image of Jesus with the Virgin Mary to his right, she is looking down on those being damned. Christ is portrayed as the Judge on Judgment Day. On the right hand side of the painting there is a group of saints and martyrs, which are surrounding Christ. Within the group of saints and martyrs is Saint Peter, who is offering two large keys to Christ. The two keys represent the power given to Christ to either bind or release the people of their sins. Below Jesus near the bottom of the painting are seven angels that are grouped together blowing their trumpets. According to the book of Revelation, seven angels will blow their trumpets before God to announce the end of all creation (How stuff works). The lower right-side of Jesus is Saint Bartholomew holding what looks to be skin of a body. Saint Bartholomew was skinned alive before his death therefore; it would make sense for this to represent the skin of him. The bottom right corner of the Last Judgment, you will find Minos, also known as the king of hell, with a large serpent coiled around his body. According to How Stuff Works, this is an indicator of the circle of hell to which each damned soul must descend. Through reading different literature, I learned Michelangelo saw Minos as somewhat of an enemy. Blagio da Cesena, a Vatican official who opposed Michelangelo’s nudity in his paintings, is being referred to as Minos. Vatican official Cesena felt the nudity painted within the Last Judgment was unfit for walls inside the chapel, therefore,
Michelangelo chose Minos as one of the “ugly figures” in the painting. In the lower right hand side of the painting, Michelangelo depicts in detail a group of the damned, those being sent to
hell. The lower right hand side of the painting was reserved for the more “wicked” images. This area also depicts in detail an image of Charon. More importantly, this area is referred by How Stuff Works, as a hideous embodiment of evil herds the darkly gaunt and tortured souls as they spill upon the shores of hell.” According to How Stuff Works, “Charon was the ferryman and gatekeeper of the river styx and of Hades. Charon would carry souls of the newly deceased across the river that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead.” Within the image of the darker side of the painting there is clearly an image of a head being pulled down into the pit of hell. His portrayal of hell was not that of a firey image but instead Michelangelo chose a more ominous glow focusing on the pain felt within the inner hell of each demon. Michelangelo effectively brought to life the fear of the devil/demon of hell. Michelangelo was careful in placing such terrifying images of hell. For example, above the alter in the chapel Michelangelo reserved this area for the intent of reminding the church leaders that they are as vulnerable and guilty of sin as the rest of us.
In contrast to the images of hell, Michelangelo uses a technique of balancing the painting by using images of pleasant/ peaceful images opposite the images of those being sucked down to hell. Although the painting has a somewhat randomness regarding the placement of the figures, Michelangelo creates balance in this painting in the right upper corner and the left upper corner of the painting. The left hand corner displays a group of angels that are lifting a
cross from the ground. To balance the effects of the left hand corner, Michelangelo uses the right hand corner to display angels lifting a column of flagellation, which is being titled toward the center therefore, giving the two corners a balanced effect. The group on the far left of the painting displays a women, saints, virgins, and martyrs, along with the sibyls, and heroines as described in the Old Testament of the Bible. Within this group of people stands a women with gigantic proportions who seems to be protecting a young girl by embracing her. The young girl is fearfully grabbing the gigantic women’s legs. According to How Stuff Works the young girl is perceived to be Eve from the Bible.
As you can see, both artist have created masterpieces in their time. Both artist have created biblical images with a considerable amount of meaning each depicting a story all of their own. To this day their work is considered creative, amazing, and nearly impossible to duplicate.
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“The Tribute of Money by Masaccio.” July 1, 1988. Christian History Biography. Free Article
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“The Tribute Money.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 11
“The Tribute of Money.” No date. The Tribute of Money. 11 February 2009
Ruehring, Lauren Mitchell. “Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.” No date. How Stuff Works. 9