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Art / Seven Virtues

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The Seven Virtues is a seven-panel set of Italian Renaissance tempera-on-wood paintings commissioned together and made in 1470 to decorate the Hall of Il Palazzo della Signoria (now known as Palazzo Vecchio, "Old Palace") in Florence. The theme is the seven cardinal and theological virtues of Christianity.

One of them, Fortitude, was painted on poplar wood by Sandro Botticelli. The other six (Temperance, Faith, Charity, Hope, Justice and Prudence) were painted on cypress wood (a wood able to resist the attacks of xylophagous insects and damp) by Piero del Pollaiolo (1441-1496), who may have been helped by his brother Antonio to speed up the process.

The reason Botticelli painted only one out of seven is because del Pollaiolo wrestled the commission from him in his favor after contesting the choice of artist by the Tribunale di Mercanzia (the legal body that regulated merchant disputes and craftsmanship guilds in The City State Era, arts included).

All seven paintings are housed in the Galleria degli Uffizi museum in Florence.

See Raphael Rooms for another Renaissance art series that features the Christian cardinal and heavenly virtues

Tropes in this set of paintings:

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    In General 
  • Artistic Licence – Anatomy: Justified Trope. The reason all the depicted women have a larger lower part of their body compared to the smaller upper part is one of perspective: the panels were hung high on the walls of the Palazzo della Signoria, so the onlooker could have a more even view of them from below.
  • Cast of Personifications: The set is composed of women who are Anthropomorphic Personifications of a modified list of the Seven Heavenly Virtues—i.e., Justice instead of Chastity, which also includes The Cardinal Virtues.
    • Fortitude as a regal and armored woman holding a scepter.
    • Temperance as a woman mixing hot and cold water.
    • Faith as a woman holding a chalice and a crucifix.
    • Charity as a woman breastfeeding a child.
    • Hope as a woman looking up to the heavens and making a praying gesture with her hands.
    • Justice as a woman holding a sword and a globe.
    • Prudence as a woman holding a serpent in one hand and a mirror reflecting her face in the other.
  • Cool Chair: All of the women sit on elaborate thrones the backs of which resemble the architecture of a church's choir.
  • Cool Crown:
    • "Fortitude" wears a diadem with embedded pearls that point towards the sky.
    • "Charity" has an elaborate, golden crown on her head. It represents that wealth is to be shared with others. It also complements the woman's Madonna imagery.
  • Heaven Above: Both "Faith" and "Hope" look upwards to the Heavens. The former does so in acknowledging God's existence while the latter does so in prayer.
  • Lady of War: "Fortitude" and "Justice" are depicted as regal women who are the embodiments of their respective virtue. They are both wearing plated armor—although, in Justice's case it's just an ornate shoulder plate on her sword arm—and holding a weapon; Justice wields a Royal Rapier while Fortitude holds a scepter.
  • Proper Lady: All the figures are women who embody the Christian core virtues, so they're proper ladies by default. This characterization can also be seen in the elegant way they sit, their immaculate clothing, and how all barring "Hope" bear serious, composed expressions on their face.
  • Shown Their Work: Both Botticelli's and Pollaiolo's knowledge in goldsmithing (or that of the latter's brother Antonio, who was a goldsmith) shows in, respectively, the very detailed armor of Fortitude and the gold objects of some of the others, which was inspired by the most elegant and precious ecclesiastical ornaments in use in the 15th century.


Fortitude (Italian: Fortezza)

The most well-known of the panels, this painting is Sandro Botticelli's first known masterpiece. Unlike del Pollaiolo's cypress panels, it was painted on poplar, a very traditionally Tuscan medium back then. The model for the woman has been speculated to be Lucrezia Donati, a mistress of Lorenzo "The Magnificent" de' Medici.

  • Battle Ballgown: The woman wears a plated armor underneath her robes.
  • Bling of War: From what we can see, the woman's armor is very elaborate, especially its shoulder (with a dragon wing-like golden decoration) and breastplate (with what appears to be diamonds as "nipples") sections.
  • Color Contrast: The woman's soft and vivid red mantle contrasts the cold and harsh gray and dark blue of the armored parts. This signifies that fortitude is equal parts passion and composed strength.
  • Leaning on the Furniture: The woman's left arm leans on a side of the throne as a way to convey The Stoic part of her characterization. The fortitude to stand calmly against everything life throws at her.
  • Red Is Heroic: The woman's red mantle is a symbol of courage, which is associated with fortitude. Or, in this context, the strength that one must have when overcoming hardship.
  • Show Within a Show: There are paintings within the painting, those on the ceiling of the church choir-like structure behind the woman more precisely.
  • Staff of Authority: The woman holds a scepter in her hands to convey that she's a hardened Lady of War.
  • Virgin Power: The diadem's pearls are a symbol of virginity.


Temperance (Italian: Temperanza)

The first panel by Piero del Pollaiolo, painted on cypress wood.

  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: A woman mixing cold and hot water as a symbol of temperance, the capacity for moderation and the right measure.
  • Red/Green Contrast: The vivid red mantle on the woman's legs contrasts with the green dress she wears. Also, the floor and two walls are red, while the ceiling and two other walls are dark green. This imagery further reinforces the "meeting the extremes at the middle" idea that she embodies, as green and red are complimentary colors.
  • The Teetotaler: Temperance also implies restraint from overindulgence in (alcoholic) drinking.


Faith (Italian: Fede)

The second panel by Piero del Pollaiolo, painted on cypress wood.

  • Crucial Cross: As a personification of the Christian faith, she holds very recognizable symbols of it — a crucifix in one hand and a chalice (for the Blood of Christ) in the other.
  • Gold and White Are Divine: The woman's clothes are predominantly golden and white, and she just so happens to symbolize faith in God.


Charity (Italian: Carità)

The third panel by Piero del Pollaiolo (though it's actually the first he worked on), painted on cypress wood.

  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: She is portrayed as a blonde woman breastfeeding a baby who is not hers as a way to represent that her heart is compassionate toward everyone and an All-Loving Heroine all around.
  • Nipple and Dimed: The woman has one of her breasts out to breastfeed the child, and the nipple is not visible due to being hidden by the child's cheek.
  • Playing with Fire: There's a flame coming out of the woman's fingers on her right hand. This is a symbol of the warmth and enlightenment she provides to others.


Hope (Italian: Speranza)

The fourth panel by Piero del Pollaiolo, painted on cypress wood.

  • Minimalism: The painting has no other attributes than the ecstatic face of the woman giving herself up to God in a prayer, which is sufficiently explanatory about its subject.
  • Prayer Pose: The woman prays with the traditional Christian gesture of joining hands palm against palm.


Justice (Italian: Giustizia)

The fifth panel by Piero del Pollaiolo, painted on cypress wood.

  • For Great Justice: "Justice", as a heavenly virtue, replaces the traditional "Chastity" as an ornament of the Florentine Palazzo della Signoria in an attempt to illustrate that this is one of the core purposes of the city's ruling body. It establishes the place as the home of the aforementioned virtue and that the authorities will judge the citizens fairly.
  • Got the Whole World in My Hand: A non-malicious example. The woman has a globe representing the known world by her side under her left hand. It symbolizes that justice is universal and unbiased.
  • Justice Will Prevail: The iconography of "Justice at Arms" became established in the 14th century, perhaps with the aim of vindicating the principle of sure penalty as a guarantee of peace and good government, or to indicate the righteous use of power. Hence, this portrayal of Justice having a sword at hand.
  • Royal Rapier: The woman holds a sword in her right hand, a symbol for the punishment of injustice. Downplayed as, while its long, thin blade is clearly made for thrusting, its hilt lacks an elaborate hand guard.


Prudence (Italian: Prudenza)

The sixth panel by Piero del Pollaiolo, painted on cypress wood.

  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: The mirror the woman holds refers to Prudence's gift of self-knowledge.
  • Wise Serpent: The woman holds a serpent not because she stays away from a danger it could represent, but because of this quote from the Gospel of Matthew in The Bible:
    Jesus: Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

Alternative Title(s): Fortezza