Pieter Aertsen 1507/08 – 1575

The Seven Acts of Mercy

oil on panel (112 × 144 cm) — 1575 Museum Muzeum Narodowe, Warsaw

Pieter Aertsen biography

This work is linked to Matthew 25:35

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The gospel of Matthew names a series of acts that can make the difference at the time of the Last Judgement. The Last Judgement is when the righteous are separated from the ones that suffer for ever. Matthew names six such works of mercy. The seventh, to bury the dead, was added in 1207 by pope Innocent III. He referred to Tobit 1:17, where "one of my nation" is buried.

The seven acts are:

  • feed the hungry
  • give drink to the thirsty
  • give shelter to strangers
  • clothe the naked
  • visit the sick
  • visit the imprisoned
  • bury the dead

On the gate to the left is the date 29 May 1575. If that is the date the work was completed, Pieter Aertsen must have made it just before his death in June. The gate on the right has the text Mat XXV, which refers to Matthew 25 where the acts are listed.

In Aertsen's days it was common practice to depict the burying of the dead by referring to the Last Judgement. In this painting Aersten keeps them separate. The burying is in the center in the background. The Judgement is shown as a relief on the gate to the right.

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