The prototype for this picture is in the Liechtenstein Collection, Vaduz. Previously known only through photographs, it was taken for a copy and, when it resurfaced on the art market in 2008, was attributed to a ‘Follower of Marinus van Reymerswaele’ and entitled The Misers. Recent scholarship has confirmed the painting to be an autograph work by Quentin Metsys, and the picture has now been correctly renamed The Tax Collectors.
The composition enjoyed considerable popularity in the 16th century and there are a large number of extant versions, including the celebrated Tax Gatherers by Marinus van Reymerswaele in the National Gallery, London. All may derive from a lost original by Jan van Eyck, described by Marcantonio Michiel as ‘El quadretto a meze figure, del patron che fa conto cun el fattor fo de man de Zuan Heic, credo Memelino, Ponetino, fatto nel 1440’ when he encountered it in the collection of Camillo and Niccolò Lampognano in Milan in about 1520.