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Lucas Cranach the Elder, Charity

Key facts
Full title Charity
Artist Lucas Cranach the Elder
Artist dates 1472 - 1553
Date made mid-1530s-1540s
Medium and support Oil on beech
Dimensions 56.3 × 36.2 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Inscribed
Acquisition credit Presented by Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle, 1913
Inventory number NG2925
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Lucas Cranach the Elder

In 1 Corinthians 13, Saint Paul discusses three traits that would become known as the theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. He believed that charity, an expression of the love of God and of one’s neighbour, was the most important. Here, the inscription ‘CHARITAS’ at the top of the picture identifies the female figure. Charity was personified as a woman with her children in art from the fourteenth century onward.

Charity is draped in a transparent veil that curves around her body. She wears a choker and gold chain in the style of jewellery worn by women of the court of Saxony, where Cranach worked. In contrast to Charity and her children, who wear nothing, the doll held by the girl on the left is clothed in a green dress in the contemporary style.

Cranach and his workshop painted this subject about a dozen times. In many of the other versions, Charity is depicted seated in a landscape.

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