Niccolò Barabino, The Charity among the representatives of the Charitable Institutions

Niccolò Barabino
Museo dell'Ottocento
Canvas, oil pigments
Height: 282 cm; Width: 229 cm;
Canvas, oil pigments

This oil painting on canvas is a preparatory cartoon for the mosaic in the lunette of the left portal of the Cathedral facade. It is by the Genoese painter Niccolò Barabino, and was commissioned by the architect Emilio De Fabris, responsible for the construction of the new facade, in 1882-1883.

The painting represents the founders of the eight most important Florentine Opere Pie (Charitable Institutions), garbed in medieval clothing, arranged around the throne of the personification of Charity, identified by the inscription on the cartouche that she unrolls with her hands. In the niche of her throne we read that she is "Consoler of the afflicted". The flame above her head symbolises her burning love for her neighbour. The base of her throne is adorned with the heraldic arms of some of the Opere pie. Before her is an overturned vase, from which coins flow in a symbol of her liberality; on the step below there are some books, probably the statutes of the charitable institutions. The persons on the right can be recognised by name: Folco Portinari, founder of Santa Maria Nuova hospital; Filippo Franci, priest and founder of the “House of Refuge”, known as the “Quarconia”; St. Pietro da Verona, Dominican, and founder of the Bigallo hospital. Also, the persons on the left: the Marquis Bonifazio Lupi da Parma, founder of the hospital of the same name; Simone di Pietro Vespucci, clothed in red, founder of the Hospital of San Giovanni di Dio; Piero di Luca Borsi, founder of the Archconfraternity of Misericordia; Friar Bernardino da Feltre, founder of the Monte di Pietà, a lending institution for the poor.

The painting partially re-elaborates the composition conceived in 1879 by Amos Cassioli in a provisional painting, created on the occasion of the unveiling of the left side of the facade in 1879. The lunette by Barabino was then sent to the Mosaic Society of Venice and the mosaic was finished in 1886.

This subject is integral to the iconographic program of the facade elaborated by De Fabris and the philosopher Augusto Conti and centred on the figure of Mary, because, Conti wrote, the Institutes of Charity were founded "in the Name of God and of Jesus Christ, under the patronage of the Virgin". Next to this lunette with Mary as promoter of Charity, the lunette of the central portal depicts Mary mediator with Christ, or Mater divinae gratiae (with other patrons of Florence who intercede for the city); finally, in the right portal, we have Mary as Ausilium christianorum, or Support of the Faith, (with representatives of the ancient Florentine guilds).

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