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Giovanni Baglione (1566-1643)

An Allegory of Charity and Justice Reconciled Signed and dated 1622

Oil on canvas | 255.3 x 227.0 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 407156

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  • Charity stands on the left holding a child, with two children standing at her feet. The child on the left supports a tablet with the inscription: QVI / MANET / IN / CARITATE / IN DEO / MANET / ET DEVS IN EO. Charity holds the hand of Justice, who is standing on the right, and holds upright a shield with the inscription: DILIGITE / IVSTITIAM QVI / IVDICATIS / TERRAM. Above the scene is a dove and the figure of Divine Wisdom reclining on a cloud and holding a chain which binds the two below.

    This work is probably the Justice and Peace embracing each other commissioned in 1617 by Ferdinando Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. It expresses the idea that Justice must be tempered by Charity, the source and origin of Mercy. Here Justice and Charity are literally chained together, the golden chain held by Divine Wisdom.

    While no documents survive, circumstantial evidence suggests that the current work, signed and dated 1622, was painted for Ferdinando Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, who was one of Giovanni Baglione's most illustrious patrons. In a letter of 1617 to an unidentified artist, Ferdinando asked to have painted the subject of 'Justice and Peace embracing each other'. It is probable that this allegory, though it shows Charity rather than Peace, is a fulfilment of the same commission. Indeed, as Lucia Marinig suggests, the letter indicates that Ferdinando had decided on the subject for the painting and probably already had in mind a location for it in the Palazzo Ducale. In the Gonzaga inventory of 1626-7 the painting was recorded as being held in the prestigious Galleria della Mostra in the Palazzo Ducale, where it was described as, 'a large painting of the three virtues joined with gold chains, by the hand of the aforementioned [Baglione] estimated at 300 lire'.

    This is an allegory expressing the idea, much favoured by Renaissance political thinkers and famously expressed by Portia in the Merchant of Venice, that Justice must be tempered by Mercy, or in this case Charity (Spiritual Love), the source and origin of Mercy. Here figures of Justice and Charity are literally chained together with a golden chain held by Divine Wisdom. To the left of Charity is a tablet which is inscribed with text from 1 John 4:16 ('he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him'), while the writing on the shield behind Justice is taken from the first verse of the Book of Wisdom ('Love righteousness, ye that be judges of the earth').

    As is evident from his request for a painting of this theme, Ferdinando Gonzaga must have recognised the potential power of this painting to enhance his image as a magnanimous and just ruler. Furthermore, as a learned artistic patron, well versed in both religious subject matter and classical texts, he would undoubtedly have appreciated the sophisticated conceit of this work.

    Recent conservation has revealed that the canvas has not been cut down, as was once thought. It also provided an opportunity to remove two strips (together measuring 47cm), which had been added to the left-hand side, presumably to adapt the painting for a particular location.

    Signed and dated: AEQVES.IO.BAGLIONVS.RO.P. / 1622

    Catalogue entry adapted from The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection: Renaissance and Baroque, London, 2007

    Recorded in the Gonzaga inventory at Mantua, 1627; purchased by Charles I with the Mantua collection; recorded by Van der Doort in the Tennis Court Chamber at Whitehall in 1639 (no 5); valued at £60 by the Trustees for Sale and sold to David Murray and others, 23 October 1651 from Somerset House (no 284); recovered at the Restoration and listed in the Passage between the King's Eating Room and his Drawing Room at Windsor Castle in 1688 (no 807)

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas


    255.3 x 227.0 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    286.4 x 248.5 x 6.8 cm (frame, external)