after 1538Oil on woodH x L : 50.2 x 33 cm

Charity, sitting naked on a tree trunk, is being embraced by a small boy standing behind her. Another child sits on her right leg, sucking at her right breast. A small girl approaches from the left holding an apple in her right hand while biting into another one held in her left hand. A young boy sits on the right, holding an apple in his left hand. In the upper left corner of the painting, the view stretches towards a castle perched on a rock face and a city located near a body of water. The artist’s mark, a winged dragon, is found on the painting’s right edge.

By 1529, Cranach’s workshop produced numerous versions of the figure of Charity, of which a dozen or so are still known today. All of them depict Caritas personified as a naked woman or draped in transparent veils. By only representing Caritas together with her children, Cranach breaks with her being traditionally associated to the series of Vices and Virtues. Moreover, his choice to consistently represent her naked or barely veiled deviates from the usual iconography of the theological virtues.

These breaks with tradition suggest a close link between representations of Charity from the Cranach workshop and Luther’s newly defined concept of Caritas. According to Luther, charity is a divine gift coming from faith alone. At the same time, he stresses the importance of unselfish Christian charity that must prove itself in the here and now with necessarily ensuring the posthumous salvation of the soul.


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