Tax collection and the place of writing in the countryside

Tax collection and the place of writing in the countryside

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  • The Tithe.

    BRUEGHEL d'Enfer (known as) Pieter, the Younger

  • Trial bag.

  • Trial bag.

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Title: The Tithe.

Author : BRUEGHEL d'Enfer (aka) Pieter, the Younger (-)

Creation date : 1617

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 55 - Width 80

Technique and other indications: Oil on wood

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Daniel Arnaudet

Picture reference: 97-006042 / RF1973-37

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Daniel Arnaudet

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Title: Trial bag.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Hemp

Storage location: Loire-et-Cher departmental archives website

Contact copyright: © Departmental Archives of Loire-et-Cher

Picture reference: 93 J 18

© Departmental Archives of Loire-et-Cher

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Title: Trial bag.

Author :

Creation date : 1826

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Cotton for the bag, paper for documents

Storage location: Departmental Archives of Alpes-Maritimes website

Contact copyright: © Departmental Archives of the Alpes-Maritimes

Picture reference: 3 FS 360

© Departmental Archives of the Alpes-Maritimes

Publication date: March 2016

Director of the Departmental Archives of Loir-et-Cher

Historical context

The village lawyer

Dated 1617 in the version of the Louvre Museum, this painting is known in several dozen copies throughout the world, under various titles such as "the payment of the tithe", "the lawyer of the village", "the office of a prosecutor "," the seigniorial royalties "... Apart from the testimony of an almost commercial production, this scene shows the important presence of the written word even in the countryside.

Image Analysis

A small, cluttered room

In a small room, in front of a lawyer who wears the bonnet of the men of the law, crowd many petitioners. Hat in hand, peasants of all ages come to present their business. One of them is holding bunches of grapes, another a fowl, a woman takes eggs from a basket. Installed behind the half-open door through which a new plaintiff is slipping in, a clerk writes on a small desk cluttered with papers. All over the room hang inflated bags of procedural exhibits, identified by a sewn-in tag; on the shelves are piled up many papers folded in bundles, sometimes crumpled and even torn, which spill over to under the lawyer's feet and into the corners of the room. In this satirical representation of justice, the attitude of the lawyer, flippant, slumped in his seat, reflects the distance between the man who holds the knowledge and the peasants, inclined in a humble attitude of respect and submission. But it is also the pile and clutter of papers that attracts attention.


The place of writing

If this table is often used to illustrate the collection of the tax and in particular its payment in kind through the visible commodities in the hands of several characters, it more likely represents a rural lawyer. Indeed, the papers that he keeps around him, suspended in carefully labeled hemp bags, are characteristic of the pleadings, briefs and procedural documents found in the justice archives until the end of the 18th century.e century. Other documents are simply folded lengthwise and held with a string. In The Advocates, Racine also mentions on several occasions Dandin's big trial bags, but also the great expense involved in his procedural mania.

This method of storing papers was all the more common as hemp cultivation was widespread in the countryside until the 1950s. Often cultivated by women, the Cannabis sativa was used in its entirety, especially for making marine ropes, tow, heavy yarn that was woven at home for sheets. In some flax regions, flax was used for making these bags.

This characteristic arrangement of the court documents of the Ancien Régime has sometimes spanned the centuries, and some archival funds still contain documents today in sacks of heavy hemp canvas. The French language also keeps track of it in expressions like "the affair is in the bag", "to have more than one trick in your bag" or "a pending affair".

  • justice
  • absolute monarchy
  • Racine (Jean)
  • tax


· Klaus ERTZ, "The peasants' lawyer" in the exhibition catalog Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1637-8), Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625): a family of Flemish painters around 1600, Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, May 3-July 26, 1998, Lingen-Antwerp, Luca Verlag-Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, 1998.

· Louis LIGIER, "Chanvre", in New rustic house or general economy of all country property, Paris, Veuve Savoye, 1775.

To cite this article

Anne-Cécile TIZON-GERME, "Tax collection and the place of writing in the countryside"

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