Daily Dose of Art #21: Quentin Metsys – The Moneylender and His Wife (1514)

For us, it just looks like a painting of a rich moneylender in the city of Antwerp or Bruges, but at the time it was made its moral message was obvious to everyone who saw it. The shiny gold, pearls (a symbol of lust), and jewellery have distracted the wife from her spiritual duty, reading a work of devotion. The objects in the background have been carefully chosen to strengthen the work’s moral message. The snuffed-out candle and the apple on the shelf are an allusion to original sin and a reminder that we are all doomed to return to dust. The carafe of water and the rosary hanging from the shelf symbolize the purity of the Virgin, and the small wooden box represents a place where faith has retired.
Check the mirror at the front, reflecting a window and the man and boy talking on the street outside.