Art/ Collection/ Art Object


Guido Reni (Italian, Bologna 1575–1642 Bologna)
Oil on canvas
54 x 41 3/4 in. (137.2 x 106 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1974
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 601
This painting exemplifies the refinement of Reni’s much admired style. The canvas comes from the Liechtenstein collection in Vienna, where it was recorded in 1767. It may have been commissioned or bought in Italy by Prince Karl Eusebius von Liechtenstein (1611–1684), who travelled to Italy in 1629–30. The allegorical figure of Charity follows the well-established iconographical model of a woman breastfeeding a group of children.
The Artist: One of the most celebrated as well as highly paid painters of his day, with a European reputation that rivaled that of Peter Paul Rubens (1575–1640), Reni is one of the defining figures of European painting. His art, with its emphasis on an ideal of abstract, feminine beauty—epitomized by the Renaissance concepts of grace ("grazia") and delicately expressive heads ("arie di teste")—earned him the epithet of "divino," or divine. He was seen not only as the inheritor of the legacy of Raphael, whose altarpiece of Saint Cecilia in Bologna was a major source of inspiration, but of the ancient painter Apelles. Such has been the lasting impact of the transformations of taste that attended the political and cultural revolutions of the nineteenth century (for which, see the classic study by Francis Haskell, Rediscoveries in Art, 1976) that it is difficult now to comprehend the extent of his fame. His Aurora, frescoed in 1614 on the vault of a loggia (the Casino dell’Aurora) in Rome, was one of the most famous works of the western canon, reproduced in thousands of engravings and photographs. His fame made him a prime target of John Ruskin’s assault on Baroque painting and his reputation has never recovered. In an influential book published in 1997, Richard Spear (see References) gives a modern deconstruction of Reni’s art, his complex and contradictory character (he was an inveterate gambler, deeply religious, and had an ambivalent sexuality), and his fame.

Born in Bologna in 1575, Guido Reni first apprenticed in the studio of the Flemish Mannerist Denys Calvaert (1540–1619) before moving to study with the Carracci family of painters. In the Carracci academy, Reni would have been exposed to the study of nature, the antique, the high Renaissance exemplars of Michelangelo and Raphael, and the painters of northern Italy such as Correggio and Parmigianino. Around 1602, Reni went to Rome, where by 1608 he had achieved great success, obtaining important commissions from Cardinal Emilio Sfondrato, Pope Paul V, and the Pope’s nephew Cardinal Scipione Borghese, for whom he painted his renowned Aurora. In 1613 Reni returned to Bologna, where he set up a prolific workshop. An infamously prickly artist, he was plagued by a gambling habit and could barely keep up with his debts or the constant demand for paintings. Despite a brief early phase in Rome when he experimented with the dramatic tenebrism of his archrival Caravaggio, Reni secured his great fame as a painter of beautiful and harmonious religious and mythological scenes and of devotional images of the Virgin Mary.

The Picture: Reni's depiction of Charity derives from Cesare's Ripa's Iconologia, a standard source book on iconology first published in Rome in 1593, with an illustrated edition appearing in 1603. It was widely used throughout Europe. Among the ways of giving an allegorical representation of Charity, Ripa suggests the following: "A woman dressed in red; she has flames of fire on her head, holds in her left hand a nursing child while two others play at her feet, one of which holds her right hand. . . ." Ripa notes that the red signifies blood, since according to Saint Paul true charity extends to the sacrifice of blood. Reni's depiction accommodates the basics features of Ripa's emblematic personification to the requisites of verisimilitude, eliminating the flames and showing Charity as a beautiful woman with a rose-colored dress and three children, one of which nurses while another, satiated, sleeps and the third points to the action of its sibling.

Reni painted an earlier version of Charity: an upright oval composition in the Galleria Palatina, Florence. That work has traditionally been connected with a document of 1607, although it may date somewhat later (see D. Stephen Pepper, "Caravaggio and Guido Reni: Contrasts in Attitudes," Art Quarterly 34 [Fall 1971], p. 342 n. 34). Its use of strong contrasts of light and shadow and more robust figure types reflect the influence of Caravaggio. By contrast, the Metropolitan's picture, which dates about 1630, is painted in high-keyed colors with faint shadows rendered in light tonalities. The figures are more expansive and painterly, their proportions more robust, and there is a far greater sense of the interval of space between them.

Key to the dating is a fresco of a sleeping cupid painted by Reni for Cardinal Francesco Barberini in January 1629 (Palazzo Barberini, Rome). The Cupid is posed identically to the sleeping child in the Charity. This figure was repeated in a Holy Family by Carlo Cignani (Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen), demonstrating the prestige of Reni's depiction in Bologna during the seventeenth century, before its sale to the Liechtenstein collection, where it was first catalogued in 1767 (see, further, Robert Enggass, "Variations on a Theme by Guido Reni," Art Quarterly 25 [Summer 1962], pp. 113–21).

[2011; adapted from Fahy 2005]
Joseph Wenzel, Prince of Liechtenstein (by 1767–d. 1772; cat., 1767, no. 498, as by Guido Reni); Princes of Liechtenstein, Vienna (1772–1858; cat., 1780, no. 581); Johann II, Prince of Liechtenstein, Vienna (1858–82; cat., 1873, no. 62; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, May 16, 1882, no. 21, for Fr 820); private collection, Paris (until about 1933; as by or attributed to Simon Vouet; sold to Reder); Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Reder, Brussels, later New York (about 1933–64; as attributed to Simon Vouet; sold to French & Co.); [French & Co., New York, 1964; as attributed to Simon Vouet; sold to Wildenstein]; [Wildenstein, New York, 1964–68; as by Guido Reni; sold to Wrightsman]; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1968–74; cat., 1973, no. 19)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Patterns of Collecting: Selected Acquisitions, 1965–1975," December 6, 1975–March 23, 1976, unnumbered cat.


Vincenzio Fanti. Descrizzione completa di tutto cio che ritrovarsi nella galleria di pittura e scultura di sua altezza Giuseppe Wenceslao del S.R.I. principe regnante della casa di Lichtenstein. Vienna, 1767, p. 98, no. 498, lists in the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein: "La Carità co' suoi tre Fanciulli, uno che poppa, e l'altro che scherza, e'l terzo che dorme, di Guido Reni. 4 piedi 4 once x 3 piedi 4 once" [Charity with three infants, one that nurses, another that plays, and a third that sleeps, by Guido Reni] .

Déscription des tableaux et des pièces de sculpture que renferme la Gallerie de son altesse François Joseph de Liechtenstein. Vienna, 1780, p. 175, no. 581.

G. Parthey. Deutscher Bildersaal. Vol. 2, L–Z. Berlin, 1864, p. 350, no. 141.

G. F. Waagen. Die vornehmsten Kunstdenkmäler in Wien. part 1, Vienna, 1866, p. 261, lists it in the collection of Prince Liechtenstein, adding that the green tone of the mother, the greenish tone of the one child and the rosy tone of the others, and the exuberance of the figures, are all indicative of the master's later, less accomplished period.

J[akob von]. Falke. Katalog der Fürstlich Liechtensteinischen Bildergallerie im Gartenpalais der Rossau zu Wien. Vienna, 1873, p. 9, no. 62.

Elisabeth Henschel-Simon. Die Gemälde und Skulpturen in der Bildergalerie von Sanssouci. Berlin, 1930, p. 25, under no. 78, identifies the "Caritas" attributed to Reni in the picture gallery at Sanssouci, Potsdam, as a replica of this painting.

D. Stephen Pepper. "A Rediscovered Painting by Guido Reni." Apollo 90 (September 1969), pp. 208–13, figs. 1, 2, 5 (details), colorpl. XIII, credits Charles Sterling and, subsequently, Anthony Clark, with the reattribution of the picture to Guido Reni; on stylistic grounds, dates the picture to about 1628–30, and sees a clue to its dating in the color, used "to differentiate between the child who is still hungry and the others whose appetites have been assuaged"; notes that its provenance can only be traced back to the eighteenth century.

Ann Sutherland Harris. "Florentine Sunset." Art News 68 (1969), p. 61.

Catherine Johnston. Il seicento e il settecento a Bologna. Milan, 1971, p. 83, connects the study of a sleeping baby by Reni at the Teylers Museum, Haarlem, with this picture; dates both the drawing and the painting towards the end of the 1620s.

Edi Baccheschi in L'opera completa di Guido Reni. Milan, 1971, p. 89, no. 35b, ill., proposes a date of around 1630; observes that there is no documentary evidence to support the identification of the picture with the "Charity" formerly in the Bolognetti collection seen by Malvasia at the Palazzo Barberini, Rome [see Carlo Cesare Malvasia, "The Life of Guido Reni," English ed., University Park, Pa., 1980, p.149]; identifies the "Charity" in a private collection in Milan, previously thought to be the original, as a copy after Reni.

Everett Fahy in The Wrightsman Collection. Vol. 5, Paintings, Drawings. [New York], 1973, pp. 170–80, no. 19, ill. p. 171 (color), figs. 1, 5 (details), calls it "An Allegory of Charity" and dates it about 1630; suggests that Prince Karl Eusebius von Liechtenstein bought the painting in Italy around 1630; relates Reni's picture to a local Bolognese convention of half- and three-quarter-length views of Charity looking to one side; considers it unlikely that the different complexions of the three children have symbolic meaning, as Reni habitually varied the flesh colors in his paintings.

Anthony M. Clark in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 96, ill., observes that the figure of Charity wears a rose red dress to recall Christ's sacrificial blood.

Götz Eckardt. Die Gemälde in der Bildergalerie von Sanssouci. Potsdam, 1975, pp. 55–56, ill.

R. A. Cecil. "The Wrightsman Collection." Burlington Magazine 118 (July 1976), p. 518.

"Principales acquisitions des musées en 1975." La Chronique des arts (supplément à la Gazette des beaux-arts) no. 1286 (March 1976), fig. 156.

Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, p. 295, fig. 531 (color).

Veronika Birke. Guido Reni, Zeichnungen. Exh. cat., Graphische Sammlung Albertina. Vienna, 1981, p. 142, fig. 45, under no. 99, calls the Tylers Museum drawing a study for this picture, which she dates probably several years later, about 1630.

D. Stephen Pepper. Guido Reni: A Complete Catalogue of his Works with an Introductory Text. New York, 1984, pp. 31, 261, no. 124, pl. 151.

Ursula Schlegel. "Bernini und Guido Reni." Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen 27 (1985), p. 141.

D. Stephen Pepper in The Age of Correggio and the Carracci: Emilian Painting of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Exh. cat.Washington, 1986, p. 514.

Marìa-Elisabeth Brunnbauer in Guido Reni und Europa: Ruhm und Nachruhm. Ed. Sybille Ebert-Schifferer, Andrea Emiliani, and Erich Schleier. Exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. Frankfurt, 1988, p. 468, publishes the engraving after this painting by the British printmaker John Keyse Sherwin (finished by J. Parker).

Robert B. Simon with Frank Dabell in Important Old Master Paintings: Devotion and Delight. Exh. cat., Piero Corsini, Inc. New York, Fall 1989, pp. 84–85, ill.

Old Master Paintings. Sotheby's, London. December 12, 1990, unpaginated, under no. 133.

Michael Kimmelman. "At the Met with Leon Golub and Nancy Spero." New York Times (January 5, 1996), p. C5.

Richard E. Spear. The "Divine" Guido: Religion, Sex, Money and Art in the World of Guido Reni. New Haven, 1997, pp. 231, 375 n. 78, p. 384 n. 9, pl. 107 (detail).

Anthony Colantuono. Guido Reni's "Abduction of Helen": The Politics and Rhetoric of Painting in Seventeenth-Century Europe. Cambridge, 1997, pp. 8–9, ill., suggests that the stern look given by Charity to the robust infant who points to her breast, as if to demand more, serves to express a subtle moral conceit: that charity must be not only generous but equitable.

Michael Kimmelman. Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre and Elsewhere. New York, 1998, p. 184 [text similar to Kimmelman 1996].

Everett Fahy in The Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 45–49, no. 12, ill. (color), lists six copies after this composition.

Keith Christiansen. "Going for Baroque: Bringing 17th-Century Masters to the Met." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 62 (Winter 2005), pp. 30, 32, fig. 27 (color).

Keith Christiansen in Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 37.

Keith Christiansen. "La création tardive d'une collection de peintures baroques au Metropolitan Museum of Art / Creating a Baroque Collection at the Metropolitan Late in the Game." Aux origines d'un goût: la peinture baroque aux États-Unis / Creating the Taste for Baroque Painting in America. Paris, 2015, pp. 64, 70, fig. 2 (color, gallery installation).

Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 284, no. 220, ill. pp. 217, 284 (color).

Andrea Bayer. "Better Late than Never: Collecting Baroque Painting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Buying Baroque: Italian Seventeenth-Century Paintings Come to America. Ed. Edgar Peters Bowron. University Park, Pa., 2017, p. 137.

Everett Fahy (2005) lists six copies after this picture:
Feversham collection, Duncombe Park, Yorkshire (sale, Henry Spencer & Sons, Nottingham, April 7, 1959, no. 95).
private collection, Milan (in 1961). Oil on canvas, 50 3/8 x 41 3/8 in.
Bildergalerie, Potsdam (1971 catalogue, no. 10). Oil on canvas, 55 1/2 x 42 7/8 in.
F. Echave, Rome (in 1972).
Palazzo Barberini, Rome (from the Bolognetti collection, Bologna). Mentioned by Carlo Cesare Malvasia, Felsina pittrice: vite de' pittori bolognesi (Bologna, 1678), vol. 2, p. 90. Its composition, however is unknown.
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours (794-1-31). From the Château de Chanteloup.

An engraving of Charity by Benoit Farjat (1646–1720) is inscribed "Guido Reni dip . . . Gio. Bat. Calandrucci dis.," but no other record of this composition survives (Fahy 2005, ill. p. 49, fig. 5).
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