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Michele Tosini

Charity is one of the theological virtues, together with Faith and Hope. From the sixteenth century onwards, Charity was commonly depicted as a mother suckling her infants. Here, one of the children looks at us and draws our attention to his mother’s example. Her breast is still exposed from feeding her babies, although they have turned away from it.

The red velvet cloth behind the woman resembles the cloth of honour often hung behind the Virgin and Child in sixteenth-century Italian altarpieces to suggest the appearance of a throne. The visual association of Charity with the Virgin and Child is frequent in Italian art of the period and would have been intentional.

The composition derives from Francesco Salviati’s larger picture of the subject in the Uffizi, Florence, painted around 1540, which is itself based on Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, also in the Uffizi. The antique-style headdress, elegant twisting pose and bright ’shot' colours strongly highlighted with white are typical of Florentine Mannerist art.

Key facts
Artist Michele Tosini
Artist dates 1503 - 1577
Full title Charity
Date made probably about 1570
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 24.5 x 17.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG652
Location in Gallery Not on display
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