(b. 1441, Firenze, d. 1496, Roma)


Tempera grassa on panel, 168 x 91 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Seven paintings of the same size, representing the seven virtues, were commissioned from Piero del Pollaiuola in 1469 as the backs for chairs in the Audience Chamber in the Tribunale di Mercanzia in Piazza della Signoria, Florence. Six of these - representing Charity, Faith, Hope, Justice, Prudence and Temperance - were executed by Piero, while the seventh - Fortitude - was painted by the young Botticelli. The cycle was completed in 1472.

The Tribunale di Mercanzia was the body that decided on the business disputes between Florentine merchants and administered justice among the guilds, known as the Arts. In the 18th century, the wealth and heritage of this judiciary went to the Chamber of Commerce, including the seven paintings of the Virtues, taken to the Uffizi Galleries in 1777.

The allegory of Charity is a young woman breastfeeding a child, to indicate mercy towards others. The flame between her fingers is the emblem of God's love. She is one of the three theological Virtues who, according to Christian belief, descend from God. The woman is sitting on a bench, in a non-distinct setting, but one that is bordered by classically inspired marble mirrors. The direct light from the right side shapes the volumes and highlights the expertly painted gold brocade on the cloak and velvet of the woman's dress.

Charity was the first of the seven Virtues to be painted and probably, to submit the work for the approval of the customers, Pollaiolo prepared the drawing of the Virtue that is still on the reverse side of the panel.