PEX through Paintings #4 – “The Virgin of Humility with Angels and a Donor”

Thursday 30 January 2020

An interesting feature when walking through the Thyssen-Bornemisza is the number of paintings stating XYZ “with a donor”. Examples include, Botticini’s “Saint Cecilia between Saint Valerian and Saint Tiburtius with a Donor”, or Mates’ “Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist with a Donor”. The most thought provoking depiction in the context of philanthropy, though, is by an unknown artist: “The Virgin of Humility with Angels and a Donor”. Humility and donor depiction combined: irony?

The reason the imagery of donors in paintings was chosen as one reflection from PEX 2020 is that no matter what the discussion at philanthropy networks levels might be, an underlying issue is: Where do their members (and funders) fit within the picture? Donors might make the picture possible in the first place. They might even enhance it. But, individual and organisational egos can also get in the way and/or sit awkwardly in the scene.

European philanthropy networks thus face the difficult struggle of balancing what might be best for the field from their own and from an overarching perspective with what, where and how their individual members contribute to, and feature in, the wider European philanthropy picture.


This short blog series reflects on ten overarching points relating to the 2020 Philanthropy Europe Networks (PEX) Forum through ten paintings from the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection. All images featured in the series are photos taken in line with the museum’s policy allowing no-flash photography. Free acess to digital versions of the paintings and accompanying information on copyrights are provided on the museum’s webpages at

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