Art, Education, J. Paul Getty Museum, Paintings

Question of the Week: How Have You Been Called to Charity?

Have you been called to acts of service? Did you answer the call?

Saint Francis of Paola, who lived in the 1400s, was called. Two moments of divine intercession are paired in The Vision of Saint Francis of Paola by 17th-century Spanish painter Bartolomé Estebán Murillo.

<em>The Vision of Saint Francis of Paola</em>, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, about 1670. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003.144

The Vision of Saint Francis of Paola, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, about 1670. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003.144

Like the kneeling saint, we behold a heavenly vision, Charitas, written in the sky and circled by a delightful band of cherubs.  This was the motto of the Order of Minims, a Franciscan order founded by the saint in 1436.  The heavenward gaze and pious gesture of the bearded old man express his great devotion to God. He gazes intently; he does not turn away.

We also witness a miracle later performed by the saint, who is depicted a second time in the painting. In the distance we see him in the brown robes of the Franciscans, sailing two passengers across the Straits of Messina by tying his cloak to his staff (detail shown below). He has answered God’s call to charity, devoting his life to service.

In what way have you been called to charitable service? Was that moment marked by a particular event—or vision?

Details from The Vision of Saint Francis of Paola / Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Two divine moments in The Vision of Saint Francis of Paola: the word Charitas appears in the sky (left); Saint Francis miraculously creates a ferry from his staff and cloak (right).

Question of the Week is a series inspired by our Masterpiece of the Week tours, offered daily at 4:00 p.m. Featuring an open and upbeat discussion among visitors and gallery teachers, the tours feature a new object and pose a new question each week.

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  1. Christiana
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    I do a lot of service/volunteer work but there was no specific moment, or vision, or action that brought me to it, heavenly or otherwise. I think calls to service are all around us every day, in many small ways that are easy to overlook or ignore.

    • William Zaluski
      Posted May 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      Hi, Christiana. I agree that a call to service is easy to overlook or ignore, but does become meaningful when one directs oneself to it, acknowledges it, and acts on it.
      Yesterday in the gallery a visitor seemed impressed that Francis was able to see past the circling cherubs to connect with his call to “charity.” The subtlety of Murillo’s painting of the engaged look by Francis to me seems quite masterful — and meaningful.

  2. Kathleen Westlake
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    I’m an Alaska native artist, and I’ve been called to give to charity large and small countless times. I’ve given to public radio, television, funerals, cancer treatment, search and rescue, you name it, I’ve donated. When you live in such a small community such as Alaska ( and Alaska really is that small) every cause is important, and it’s important for very able person to contribute. I’ve had relatives missing out on the ice, and we need to pay for gas and food for the rescuers, and the people manning the VHF back home. I’ve also had relatives in the hospital with cancer in the lower 48 who couldn’t possibly pay for a hotel room without donations. Other times, people couldn’t pay for a funeral, so we all help. That is how I’m called to charity. It is my duty as a human being.

    • meg robinson
      Posted September 20, 2015 at 4:18 am | Permalink

      Hello Kathleen, I came accros your comment this monring while looking for images of St Francis.. and I was very moved my your call to service. I have been to Alaska a few times, I’m Irish but live in Spain, so I am aware of how ‘small’ you country is in terms of people, and how vital the need to help each other must be. Well done for all that you have done and I’m sure continue to do, if possible.
      I see your comment was 2011… I expect you will be surprised to read this, that’s if it get’s to you. I also do similar work to you, mainly in Peru and Bolivia, but where ever I see a real need I feel complelled to support in some way.
      Kindest regards, and Namaste,


  3. Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I volunteer read to a second grade class a half hour every week. I read a story and create a related activity. My goal is help them enjoy reading, think, be creative, expand their thinking. It is such a joy. Love it!

  4. patrick
    Posted May 19, 2011 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    One of Solomons proverbs says “Don’t pretend not to see somebody in trouble-you might be able to save them!Patrick.

  5. Olga Raffa
    Posted May 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    I used to restore antique books and when I was circuling the Dalai Lamas’ Palace in Dharamsala I felt a huge energy impress upon me to set up a conservation project in the Tibetan library there. The proposal was approved by the Dalai Lama and I nearly got my proposal into the Getty for help with funding then I became pregnant. My daughtetr Tara is now 10 and you’ve just reminded me I really must get back on the programme! Thank you for the reminder!

  6. Laurie
    Posted May 20, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    I give of myself as a teacher to elementary kids, and for that matter, adults around me, every day. I volunteer at church on a weekly basis and help run a program for divorcees. This is my second summer giving a week to God. Last summer I went to Appalachia to encourage and help the good folks there. This summer I will be a counselor at a camp for abused and neglected kids. I think part of giving charity in money or time is what gives my life meaning.

  7. Deborah
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    My call to charity comes from my mother who always said, “It’s our duty to serve in the community, it’s what makes us human.” We belong to a service organization that raises money for local charities but from time to time we need to take care of our own. This month a fellow volunteer is undergoing cancer treatment and the rest of us are handling dinners for the family. Charity is always local.

    • Posted May 24, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Thank you all! Each of your stories illustrates how every person’s response to calls to charity is both personal and intense.

      During the gallery talks last week, one participant wanted to know more about the specifics of Francis’ call: Were the heavens opened by a group of cherubs? Or was the painting from the imagination of an artist trying to convey an idea?
      In another talk, someone wanted to know why the movement of the composition was weighted so heavily towards the left.
      Another visitor saw the American Sign Language word for “love” in the right hand gesture of the saint.

      The painting offers such powerful reminders of charity and drew individuals to conversation. The online and gallery discussions remind me that one gains just as much as one gives in charity, as in dialogue.

  8. Posted May 26, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I have been called to charity by being inspired to create a program that provides professional quality art supplies to talented teens who wish to pursue art as a career! I paid for the first competition myself. Unfortunately, I haven’t the funds do another this year, but I won’t give up. I’m sharing this with you in the hopes that you might share the idea with other artists. I think it would be a beautiful program to spread across the country! If the link doesn’t “take” you can find it by searching for “Cup O Swank Studio Tools of the Trade Competition”!

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