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Godfried Schalcken, Allegory of Virtue and Riches

Key facts
Full title Allegory of Virtue and Riches
Artist Godfried Schalcken
Artist dates 1643 - 1706
Date made about 1667
Medium and support Oil on copper
Dimensions 17.1 × 13.1 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Richard Simmons, 1847
Inventory number NG199
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Allegory of Virtue and Riches
Godfried Schalcken

A small, beady-eyed sparrow on one side of a set of scales heavily outweighs the gold and pearls which a weeping woman, two tears glistening on her cheeks, places in the other. Clearly, in the real word, this couldn't happen: the bird would be much the lighter than the jewellery. But this picture does not seek to depict the real world – it’s an allegorical painting and the sparrow is probably intended to represent virtue and true love. The moral is that no amount of gold and pearls can match the value of the woman’s virtue; her tears suggest that she has traded her virginity for jewels and expensive clothes, and now regrets her decision.

Ironically, this painting also has jewel-like qualities. It is tiny and painted on a copper plate, which allowed the artist to create an exceptionally fine, bright finish.

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