The Works of Mercy
Production date
circa 1600
Object number

In the 19th century, this scenic work by Frans (II) Francken or his studio was included in the epitaph of a curate to the Capuchin Sisters in St.-Rochusstraat. On the closure of this convent in 2001, the painting was transferred here, together with the epitaph inscription, as a thematic complement to the Minters’ Altar reconstructed in that year, the outer left panel of which depicts ‘Munificence’.
Inspired by the word of Christ “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25, 40-45), the almoners (chaplains), dressed in the rank of their robes, devote themselves to the seven good works: feeding the hungry, refreshing the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, offering shelter to strangers and freeing political prisoners. The seventh work, burying the dead, was added only in the Middle Ages during the epidemics of the plague: the Black Death.
It is not by chance that the charitable handing out of bread is given prominence in the foreground, being one of the most important forms of charitable relief. Bread was the staple food of the poor. Moreover, the almoners came most to attention regarding this charitable work when, on Sundays after Mass, they took their places at the back of the church, as in St. Andrew’s, at the pew for the poor or the Table of the Holy Ghost in order to distribute bread. Above all, it was women with children, the elderly and the crippled who could have recourse to them. The painting’s intention is to urge the viewer to actual charitable work and thus to a generous donation for the poor and for the weekly handing out of bread in particular. There is a very striking similarity in terms of composition and figuration with the vast canvas in St. Paul’s Church where the same theme was executed by the same studio.

CC BY (Creative Commons 4.0)

Other artworks of this artist

Worship of the Golden Calf
The birth of Christ
A collection
The Works of Mercy