Although Anne W. Lowenthal included this painting under 'Problematical Attributions' in her 1986 catalogue of Joachim Wtewael's paintings, she subsequently revised her view and accepts it as a fully autograph work (written correspondence, 8 January 1993).
Wtewael turned to the subject of Charity on several occasions, always reconceiving his composition in each new rendering. The colors in the present painting are muted for the artist, but the technique is highly characteristic of his works from the late teens or early 1620s, as Lowenthal notes. The composition must predate 1628, since it evidently inspired a painting of the same subject by Joachim's son Peter Wtewael (Lowenthal D-21), which is signed by the son and dated that year. As Lowenthal remarks, 'despite obvious similarities in format, theme and conception, the two artists' different sensibilities are revealed by a comparison of these two works. Joachim's rhythmic and fluent composition contrasts with Peter's more angular one; Joachim's characters are restrained, Peter's exuberant'.
Although it is relatively small in scale and modest in setting, Charity is conceived with a sense of figural monumentality that characterizes many of Wtewael's mature works. Placed against a plain, dark background, four children surround a seated mother in a near pyramid of intertwined bodies, the baby nursing at her breast. It is an image of Charity traceable to the 14th century, deriving perhaps from the medieval tradition of the Virgo Lactans.
Lowenthal notes that a copy of the present lot was sold at auction in Maine at F.O.Bailey & Co. in April 1992. A superb painting of Charity by Wtewael, horizontally formatted and of entirely different composition, sold at Christie's London, 4 December 2012, lot 17.