Marinus van Reymerswaele – The Moneychanger and his Wife (1538)

Today’s post is rather unusual, since it’s about a copy of a better known painting. Some of you may already be familiar with The Moneylender and his Wife by Quentin Massys, a moralizing artwork about the depravity of money that keeps a couple away from spiritual enlightenment. It’s a highly complex painting, with lots of symbolism and visual tricks.

Quentin Massys - The Moneylender and his Wife
Quentin Massys – The Moneylender and his Wife (1514), oil on panel

Twenty-four years later, when Dutch artist Marinus van Reymerswaele redid the same artwork, some of its beauty got lost – mainly the vibrant colors, intricate details and the depth of the scene. So you’re probably wondering, and rightfully so, why would I choose the lesser known, simpler painting. If you’re guessing it’s because of the kick-ass hat that the moneychanger is wearing, then yes, you’d be right. But not entirely. That haute couture extravaganza deserves a post of its own. What intrigued me more, however, was van Reymerswaele’s talent in revealing the psychology of his subjects.

Marinus van Reymerswaele - The Moneychanger and his Wife (1538)
Marinus van Reymerswaele – The Moneychanger and his Wife (1538), oil on panel

The Moneychanger and his Wife is, to a large extent, identical in its composition to The Moneylender and his Wife. A moneychanger and his spouse are completely immersed in counting and weighing their copper, silver and gold coins on a small scale, with the woman forgetting about the scripture book she was reading. Compared to Massys’ version, here the couple looks far more focused and intent. The man is slightly frowning, as if in the midst of deep concentration, while his wife is leaning on her right arm, away from her book, to have a better view of the money. Her left hand looks like a claw, ready to snatch the coins. There is considerably more tension in this version, van Reymerswaele doing a stellar job at capturing their greed and preoccupation. The couple in the original painting, on the other hand, looks serene and calm, the woman even seeming absent minded.

Another important distinction is that van Reymerswaele’s background is messy and chaotic. The piles of books and sheets reveal the moral disorder and character of the subjects and, just like in the original painting, the snuffed candle is a reminder of their mortality.

Van Reymerswaele redid this artwork several times. His 1539 version, at the Prado Museum, is more technical and visually intricate, with a greater emphasis on the clutter and disorder. Too bad the hat doesn’t look as good.

So, which one is your favorite version?

18 thoughts on “Marinus van Reymerswaele – The Moneychanger and his Wife (1538)

    1. Haha, wouldn’t it be funny if we chose our favorite artworks based on the subjects’ accessories? Nope, no it wouldn’t. Thank you for reading, though. I’ve been trying not to compare artists anymore, and this was a big step in the wrong direction for me. But fun, nonetheless!

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Hard to say which I like best. I love the detail in Moneylender: the initial in the manuscript, the close proxy for writing on the pages not even attempted in Moneychanger, the window reflection in the glass object, the metallic look of the ink pot and money compared to the plastic look in Moneychanger, the pearls, the crystal container, the clothes, and more. But as you point out the subjects in Moneychanger do a much better job of conveying what they are all about. If it weren’t for the lady’s claw in Moneychanger I’d go with Moneylender as I love that type of Northern European detailed painting at this time period but the claw make me declare it a tie for me.
    Thank you for a very interesting analysis of the two paintings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you on all that you’re saying. I love the level of detail in Moneylender – and it looks more 3D, too. The ideal painting, in my view, would have the figures from Moneychanger amidst the Moneylender setting. Ta-dah! Problem solved. And the hat stays too!

      As for the claw, I find it interesting that her left hand is restrained by her right hand (the hand of good?) like a handcuff. I hope I’m not reading too much into this.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When you pointed out the claw hand that wowed me and the restraining hand is another wow. Although I did notice the long fingers in both paintings I wouldn’t have picked up on the symbolism in Moneychanger. But now that it’s out there I think it’s pretty obvious, especially being in a time period when symbolism is still a big part of art. And I agree 100% with your mashup.

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  2. No contest. The Massys is the clear winner; not that I’m going out on a limb there. The clarity of color and light in the Massys sets it apart from the copy, as does the rendering of the still life on the table. The color in the copy looks washed out by comparison. To my eye, there is a little spacial ambiguity in the copy also; particularly in the separation between that funky hat and the background objects on the shelf or wall.
    I agree with David. The reflection of the outdoors in the little glass object is a nice touch, as is the two guys seen in the back through a doorway. The five o’clock shadow on the guy in the Massys-another nice touch.
    Anyway, a good post. It shows clearly why some works are just better and more highly regarded.

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  3. I am thrilled by your comparison, Gabriela and like you, I think the copy is actually capturing much more of the psychology of the characters. I like your fashion eye as well: I may have a treat for you in a few weeks on my own blog 🙂
    Thank you for sharing as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww, thank you, Ingrid! You’ve already won me over with your science-fashion, so I’m really looking forward to your next post. I hope you have one or two crazy hats in store for me. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I like the first one more. The details are more intricate, for example, the crystal vase, the coins, and the impressive miniature reflection of a window at the object on the table. For me, the woman of the first painting conveys more character than the woman in the second painting, whose face seems washed away. In general, I think the countenance of the first characters seems to be more human, more alive, more real, maybe it is the chiaroscuro. Have a great week!.
    Marianne

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bit of apples and oranges here. For people who need accurate rendering as their measure, certainly the second handles anatomy much better (Massy’s people look more like puppets with over-sized heads), as well as overall perspective. My favorite detail in the Reymerswaele version is the woman’s hand, and particularly the shadow of her fingers below it, which is what makes her hand stand up like a spider.

    That said, the mood of the former, and the crisp clarity have their own appeal, which I might prefer to the later and latter display of virtuosity. Reymerswaele’s second version you linked to, I think, may be better than the first, technically speaking, as he figured out some more elaborate compositional devices.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not that keen into accurate representation. Purely visually speaking, Massys is a feast for the eyes. But by not making his subjects more engaged, it’s like he misses the whole point of his painting. Why spend all that effort on the symbolism of greed and sin when the couple looks so serene? But that’s often the case with these Flemish and Dutch painters. As much as they try to be moralizing, they make it seem like it’s lots of fun to … uhm … lack virtue.

      Reymerswaele’s second version is, indeed, more technical. I’m guessing he was on a learning curve. It surprised me how flat his background was in the first version, but he takes care of that later.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Might be a bit of tastes and mood as to which is more the visual feast. Sometimes we feel like looking at one kind of image, and sometimes another.

        Maybe the artists were expected to moralize, but realized how boring it is. I’m really down on moralizing lately, as I think we are slipping into hyper-moralization mode in the West. It’s killed my taste for it, and so maybe that happened with artists in the past as well.

        Bosch was always about the moralizing, but, his canvases are perverse, sadistic, ecstatic, and visionary. He used “morality” as an excuse to envision that which isn’t.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I love Bosch. If that’s how hell looks like, then I want a front seat there. I can’t possibly tell what was their motivation, though it appears their whole lives revolved around religion. By making it fun, perhaps they were being subversive, like you’re saying.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. The richer you get the weirder hat money can buy, is the moral of the story. And then that hat too is reaching out to grab the money, hahaha.
    But man what a painting . Religion ( or maybe morals ) is such a overarching force in many of the artworks that survive, isn’t it. I also feel that many a times, not being much aware of Christian world maybe the symbolism( and context ) which might be obvious to others might be lost on me.
    Setting aside these things, the painting itself speaks so much. And then your write up as always, wonderful .
    Gratitude, always !!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, if that’s the logical conclusion… then I want to get really rich! See, both painters make ‘sinning’ look more fun that way.

      Thank you for bringing this up, I always wonder how cultures who have never dealt much with Christianity look at these sort of paintings. If it’s any consolation, the symbolism eludes me too, to some extent. Especially in Italian Renaissance art… that stuff is heavy! Ultimately, missing the context can be beneficial too, as it gives you the freedom to appreciate an artwork solely on its visual merits.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yup, purely visual merits.
        Hence I am sometimes perplexed when there are people who comment with condescension towards others who might not be so well versed with these contexts. Anyways, that is a matter for another time.
        🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’d be interested to see if anyone knows if the side to side orientation how the more evil sides are on the left and the virtuous stuff is on the right. I think this might be an observation of how English/Western Language reads left to right. The apple (for original sin) is on the left moving to the candle thats extinguished (death). I think this might highlight the end result of corruption/working with the bottom of the painting. At the bottom wealth is a distracting and corrupting force falling in line with the same pattern as bad on the right and good on the left.
    I couldn’t find any detail online about this but if anyone has info please email me at (gkitchell21@amdg.brebeuf.org) I’d be really interested to know if anyone else has commentary/evidence/other ideas

    Liked by 1 person

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