Allegories in Art II: Hope, True Love & Charity

I. Hope [1886] by George Frederic Watts

This painting depicts Hope, sitting crouched and blind-folded on a globe, trying to obtain a melody through the only string left in her lyre. It is a very powerful, though melancholy, depiction of the never-dying feeling. Hope clings desperately to something, anything, refusing to give up even when odds are clearly stacked against a person. As long as Hope hears a melody through the lyre, there can never be complete hopelessness.

The muted dark colours surrounding Hope makes the depiction even sadder, and the blind-fold and the globe further emphasise Hope’s helplessness, loneliness and isolation. There is a lone star above her head, twinkling, but it is hardly perceived. However, it is there, and Hope manages to distil and hear a melody through her instrument, meaning that not all is lost.

George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904) was a British painter associated with the symbolist movement and influenced by such artists as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Allegedly, he painted Hope with the help of his assistants and it was designed to be part of a cycle of paintings titled House of Life. The painting is currently housed in the Tate Gallery in London.

II. An Allegory of True Love [c. 1547] by Pieter Pourbus

This painting shows a gathering of figures at a table (“that hosts fruits of love”). The man in black in the painting, staring directly at us, is Wisdom, and the lady next to him is Fidelity, standing for spiritual love blessed by God and the sanctity of marriage. Wisdom holds Fidelity down by pressing his hand to her chest, preventing her from sharing with others all that she can. Around their table are the figures of carnal love (Adonis, Daphnis, the Graces, etc.) who show unconcern about the pair and are preoccupied with receiving their own sensual pleasure. While Wisdom and Fidelity sit upright and are dressed conservatively (Fidelity even wears a cross around her neck), other figures are scantily-dressed in bright clothes and their postures indicate total relaxation. The painting characterises true love as fidelity tempered by wisdom, as well as warns against the sins of carnal love.

Pieter Pourbus (1523—1584) was a Flemish painter active in Bruges. He was also the founder of a dynasty of painters from that area. An Allegory of True Love can be seen in the Wallace Collection in London.

III. Allegory of the Charity [c. 1655] by Francisco de Zurbarán

This Baroque-style painting depicts Charity, looking confidently and intently at the viewer, but not without some pity in her eyes, and being dressed in green and red, with red being a colour traditionally associated with both love and charity. She holds a flaming heart in her right hand (“the Sacred Heart of Jesus”) and above her is a dove in flames, standing for the Holy Spirit and the number of flames probably symbolising the apostles. Similar-themed paintings/frescoes were completed previously by such artists as Giotto (1306) and Simon Vouet (1640), with Charity depicted in those paintings as receiving a heart from the hands of the Creator.

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598 – 1664) was a Spanish painter, regarded as one of the three great Spanish artists of the seventeenth century, alongside Murillo and Velázquez. His religious paintings are particularly evocative. Allegory of Charity is housed in the Prado Museum in Madrid, but is not currently on display.


13 thoughts on “Allegories in Art II: Hope, True Love & Charity

  1. I’m really enjoying these commentaries. I’m not a huge fan of allegory (if you forgive my use of litotes here) but your explanations of significant details are really helpful.


  2. Interesting to have a look at allegorical art, it’s fallen so far out of fashion. The “hope” seems a bit despondent to me but your commentary helps me to understand how the artist may have interpreted that quality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Hope actually remains quite popular (even growing in popularity), perhaps because many people can connect with it. And, you are right, some suggest that the painting should be titled Despair or something, but I think there are different of varieties and levels of “hope”, and I clearly see hope in this painting, even if it is blind and refuses to see the reality for what it is. Despair will certainly be something much darker and completely “hopeless” for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Many thanks for your interesting information ( I didn’t know Watts ), and for the pictures, I correspond with the link to adetail of another image of a women of Zurbarán (Saint.Catherine of Alessandria at the Museum of Fine Arts in Gothenburg, Sweden, in my neighborhoud):


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting! I love how powerful the allegory of Hope is, it really speaks to me! I was also surprised by the painting of True love, as it is definitely not how I would have depicted it! Thanks for sharing and making me discover these paintings!

    Liked by 1 person

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