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. This piece is part of a cycle of paintings dedicated to the Virtues and commissioned from Piero del Pollaiolo in 1469. They were painted for the Audience Chamber in the Tribunale di Mercanzia in Piazza della Signoria, Florence. 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. The support of the painting, as for the other five Virtues painted by Pollaiolo – Fortitude was painted by Sandro Botticelli - consists of planks in cypress, a wood able to resist the attack of wood-eating insects and damp.
The Tribunale di Mercanzia, the customer for this cycle of paintings, 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.