A rich man – shown on the left sitting at a desk in his study – has accused his steward of embezzlement, telling him that he can no longer employ him. Aware of his unsuitability for menial labour and too proud to beg, the steward decides to forgive the debts of some of his master’s debtors to garner favour with them in an attempt to make provisions for his own now precarious future. This is the scene depicted in the background on the right: we see the steward returning a borrower’s note to the grateful debtor doffing his cap.
The composition is based on the Parable of the Unjust Steward in St. Luke’s Gospel, which warns us that we cannot serve two masters at the same time, that we have to choose between God and mammon. This is why Reymerswale’s steward is pointing heavenwards, while his expensively dressed master sporting an impressive headdress and a gold signet ring is pointing at the coins on the table in front of him.
Like many of Marinus van Reymerswale’s works the painting focuses on avarice – and thus a topic that has (sadly) lost none of its relevance in the intermediate five centuries.
In 2012 the Picture Gallery started “Points of View”, a series of exhibitions showcasing an exceptional, unusual or little-known painting that, for lack of hanging space, is rarely displayed in the permanent collection, or that has been the object of recent research, which allows us to see it in a new light.
Note that the Museum has longer opening hours on Thursdays! (10 a.m.-9 p.m.)