Portraits of Compassion: Picturing the Poor in Renaissance Italy
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At the beginning of the Renaissance, social policy towards the poor was geared only to help Christ’s poor: the orphaned, widowed, and disabled. The working poor received little, if any, assistance, and “false beggars,” or those who were able-bodied but thought to be too lazy to work, faced stiff penalties such as imprisonment and flogging. By the end of the Renaissance, however, there was recognition that poverty affected more than just those whom the New Testament describes as the most needy (James 1:27 “Pure religion and undefiled before God the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction…”). In this thesis, I note the growing presence of the poor in Renaissance art and observe how artists influenced and recorded these changing attitudes towards the poor in fifteenth century Florentine art. The thesis closes with an afterword where I also note modern parallels in social attitudes towards the poor and examine how art continues to play an important role in shaping opinions about poverty today.