Pieter Bruegel the Younger, 1564-1638

Pieter Bruegel the Younger, 1564-1638

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (or Workshop), Payment of the Tithes, c. 1617-1622

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There is some debate about what this painting actually presents. Is it a tax-collector’s office? A notary’s shop? A church-designated place for receiving tithe payments from the parishioners? In any event, it is an office in which barter, not cash, is changing hands. 

The man behind the counter is clearly the person to be reckoned with. He wears the authoritative headpiece of a lawyer, and, in spite of the kibitzer presuming to offer advice, seems determined to make up his own mind about the purport of the document he is reading.

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Detail: Payment in Kind

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Detail: the Lawyer/Tax Collector

Perhaps the man on the left is trying to explain — or explain away — some unsatisfying entry being scrutinized by the official wearing the black cap. Could the explainer be holding a bribe in his right hand in case the official is not satisfied? The sand in the hourglass seems low, so maybe the time is almost up for the petitioner.

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