• Charity of St. Nicholas
  • c. 1580
  • Jan van der Straet (called Stradanus)
  • Italian
  • 1523-1605
  • Oil on lindenwood panel
  • Gift of Samuel H. Kress Foundation
  • CMA 1954.35

It was not uncommon for artists north of the Alps to make a trip to Italy in order to study first hand the developments in art that were occurring there during the Renaissance. This is the case with Jan van der Straet who worked in his native Flanders until 1546 when he left for Italy where he was known as Giovanni Stradano. In Florence Stradano worked for Duke Cosimo de' Medici painting in a style called Mannerism, favored by the Medici and other European courts, which emphasizes elegance and refinement in the form of elongated bodies in unusual postures and preciousness in the form of pristine surfaces and high-keyed colors. The story of the Charity of St. Nicholas of Bari comes from the Golden Legend. Hearing of an impoverished nobleman who could not provide a dowry for his three daughters, St. Nicholas secretly presented each girl with a dowry in the form of a golden ball which he tossed into their bedroom window during the night. This is the basis for the tradition of giving surprise gifts to children the night before St. Nicholas’ day, December 6.

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