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Girolamo Macchietti, The Charity of St Nicholas of Bari

Key facts
Full title The Charity of St Nicholas of Bari
Artist Girolamo Macchietti
Artist dates 1535 - 1592
Date made about 1555-60
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 75 × 112 cm
Acquisition credit Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the National Gallery, 2007
Inventory number NG6606
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Charity of St Nicholas of Bari
Girolamo Macchietti

Under cover of darkness, Saint Nicholas throws three golden balls through the window of the house of an impoverished nobleman. The saint’s act of charity, providing dowries for the daughters so they could marry, saved them from being sold into prostitution. Saint Nicholas’s feast day is celebrated on 5 December and the story gradually evolved into the Christmas tradition of Santa Claus.

The shape and sturdy structure of the panel suggest that the picture may have been set into a piece of furniture or incorporated into the panelled walls of a bedchamber. Such decorative schemes were often commissioned at the time of a marriage. As well as the scene of sleeping, the moral of this tale was also appropriate to a bedchamber – by the saint’s charity, the noble lineage of the family was protected.

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