16th february 2006

The Moneychanger and his Wife, Quentin Metsys, 1514

Your task as an art critic: to discuss this picture without reference to the moral aspects of moneylending in 16th century Flanders. From what you read, you'd think it couldn't be done; but what a waste of ink. The 'elongated curved fingers suggestive of avarice' (yet see any contemporary works involving saints, with the same hands); in particular the 'woman's gaze having strayed from her book - with its depiction of the Virgin and Child - and fixed itself upon the gold in the hands of her husband.'
That gaze is what I like most about this picture. She's not looking at the money, it's easy to see that. Her eyes look defocussed and her mind is far away; even as she turns the page she's begun to aller en bateau, lulled by the familiar environment and the calm, precise movements of the man next to her. She's become part of a still life. Which of us doesn't know and love that feeling?