The theological virtue of Charity is traditionally represented by a woman with several small children, one of whom she is shown nursing. Here, those figures appear hard and solid amidst a smoky, undefined setting. Sharp colors, like the pink and turquoise of the garments or the burnt orange and purple stripes of the tablecloth, heighten this contrast of tangible form and indeterminate space. It is, above all, in the ideal grace of slowly revolving poses that the real expressive force of the picture is conveyed.
That the subject is subservient to the style in this painting is underlined by the fact that the panel was first planned as a Holy Family, but with a few changes in details, del Sarto transformed it into a Charity.
Andrea d'Agnolo was called "del Sarto" from his father's trade as a tailor. He had a successful and productive career in Florence and was particularly celebrated for the beauty and originality of his color. Sarto worked briefly at the court of Francis I at Fontainebleau in 1518. This Charity, probably painted shortly before the artist's death, was also commissioned for the French king.
Commissioned by Giambattista della Palla, agent for the King of France, who was apparently imprisoned before the painting was completed. The widow of Andrea del Sarto [d. 1530]; Domenico Conti, Florence, by 1550; Niccolò Antinori, Florence, by 1550 until at least 1568. Bastiano Antinori, Florence, by 1584. Prince Rospigliosi, Rome; in 1827 to John Proctor Anderdon, London and Farley Hall, Berkshire, England; (Anderdon sale, Christie's, London, 15 May 1847, no. 34, bought in); (Anderdon sale, Christie's, London, 24 May 1851, no. 66, bought in). (Anonymous sale, London, 1856, bought in). Possibly P. Hinds, in 1859. (Anonymous sale, London, 1860); possibly purchased by Ripp. Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro of Novar [d. 1865], London and Novar, Highland, Scotland; (Munro sale, Christie's, London, 1 June 1878, no. 101); purchased by Permain. Presumably Thomas Humphrey Ward [1845-1926], Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England; (David M. Koetser Gallery, New York, London, and Zurich); sold 1954 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1957 to NGA.
- British Institution, London, 1828, no. 29
- Vasari, Giorgio. Le Vite. 1550 and 1568. Milanesi ed. (Florence, 1880), V:50-52.
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- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Colllection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 22, no. 2, repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 52.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 107, repro.
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- Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 37-38, pl. 21.
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- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 366, repro.
- Andrea del Sarto 1486-1530, Dipinti e disegni a Firenze, Exh. cat., Palazzo Pitti, Florence, 1986:73, under cat. no. 80, 90
- Hommage à Andrea del Sarto Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre, 1986:under cat. no. 56, 60
- Natali, Antonio and Alessandro Cecchi. Andrea del Sarto, Catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1989: no. 69, repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 97, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 94-95, no. 70, color repro.