Allegory of Charity enlightening the world

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Allegory of Charity enlightening the world
In the twentieth tapestry of the series, Charity – the principal virtue of Christianity – is represented as a woman, seated on a rock, who tends to three children.


The theological virtue of Charity is personified as a young woman who, like a Roman matron, appears seated on a rock. She is surrounded by three children, one of them positioned as if to suckle, while the other two demand her attention by coming up to her lap. This iconography was already defined in the Middle Ages, and was used during the Counter-Reformation as an interpretation of the Church which spiritually nourishes the faithful through the Sacraments.

Ignis caritatis

In her right hand, the woman holds a lit torch, the ignis caritatis, a symbol of her maternal and protective love. The fire lights the terrestrial globe at the same time as representing the universal value of Christianity.

Its function in the series

As in the tapestries of the allegory of Wisdom, with which it forms a pair, and “Franciscan Asceticism”, this one is framed by a border inspired by frames based on darts and seaweed. This technique, different from the one used in the large tapestries of this series, reflects that the panel was destined to occupy a specific place in the decoration of the church, more similar to the concept of a painting.

The creative process

Rubens conceived the scene in this way from the beginning, as reflected in the draft conserved in the Mead Art Museum in Amherst College, Massachusetts, the only phase of the creative process which survives. In this small work, we already see the existence of a frame, without moulding in this case, and the only variations compared to the tapestry are those related to the colours used in the clothing. The bright red of the tunic was replaced by a gentler ochre, giving greater prominence in the tapestry to the blue cloak which was, contrarily, gentler in the draft.


The marks of the weaver and place of manufacture can be seen in the lower selvage: IAN RAES BdB.

Series The Triumph of the Eucharist

Twentieth tapestry in the series

Model Peter Paul Rubens, 1626-1628

Manufacture Jan II Raes, Brussels, 1627-1632

Fabric Silk and wool

Size 275 x 200 cm

Location Monastery of the Descalzas Reales

Origin Collection of the Monastery of the Descalzas Reales

On display Hall of Tapestries

National Heritage Inv. 00610327


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