BASSANO, Leandro
(b. 1557, Bassano del Grappa, d. 1622, Venezia)

Dives and Lazarus

c. 1595
Oil on canvas, 100 x 123 cm
Private collection

Dives and Lazarus is a parable in the New Testament (Luke 16:19-31) that teaches that riches on earth have to be paid for in eternity while the poor will enjoy their reward in heaven. There was a rich man (Latin: dives) who dressed in fine clothes and feasted every day while a poor man, Lazarus, lay at his gate starving. The dogs would come and lick the sores that covered the poor man's body. In time, both died and the poor man was carried to 'Abraham's bosom'; the rich man descended to Hades where, in spite of his pleas to Abraham, he was condemned to remain.

In Bassano's depiction Dives sits at a table with a courtesan, attended by servants and entertained by musicians. A servant threatens Lazarus with a stick. Lazarus became popularly identified with the leper in the Middle Ages and, as though he were an historical figure, was in due course canonized and made the patron saint of lepers and beggars.