The Banquet of the rich Man and Lazarus ; François MAÎTRE; 1475; miniature from “the City of God” translated by Raoul de Presle; manuscript MMW 10 A 11; Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, Koninklijke Bibliotheek,The Hague


Poor Lazarus

To understand

A sick man begging in front of a door, dogs licking his legs; this is Poor Lazarus.

He should not be mistaken for Lazarus of Bethany, Martha and Mary’s brother, who is mentioned in the Resurrection of Lazarus.

Lazarus is covered with ulcers but the tradition has made him a leper; he has a “clapper” (or rattle) to warn the passers-by of his arrival; he also has a bowl to receive his food.

What happens inside the house is either hardly visible by poor Lazarus who is kept outside or put to the front so that Lazarus is rejected to one side or into the background. One can see that there a man who is feasting with his friends and who completely ignores Lazarus; he is the bad rich man, traditionally called "Dives", after the Latin word for "rich man".

The dogs licking his wounds are often perceived as an element of pity. For the Jews in the Middle East, they were, on the contrary, a sign of increased impurity.

Other scenes compose the cycle of Lazarus. Lazarus is represented dying; his soul, a small child, is flying away to “Abraham’s bosom”; this expression designates the place of rest of all the just since Abraham. There can be seen the bearded patriarch or Christ holding the souls of the deceased in a sort of large apron placed on his lap. If a devil is present, it is the one that seizes the rich man’s soul.

Not be confused with


Saint Roch

Lazarus, ill and licked by dogs, can be mistaken for St Roch. This saint of the 15th century is sick with plague; he shows his wound (or bubo) on his leg and he is accompanied by a dog that brings him a loaf of bread in its mouth. But Roch is always standing and dressed as a pilgrim of St James’s Way with a scallop shell.

Saint Roch; Tourcoing, France


The biblical narrative

The Gospel according to Luke, chapter 16

There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
 (Luke 16:19-23)



Lazarus then finds himself in Abraham’s bosom, a place of heavenly banqueting, exactly the opposite of what he has known on earth. The rest of the text gives some importance to the death of the rich man and his attempt to warn his brothers, but the parable is not a condemnation of the rich, rather an appeal to pity, to compassion, to charity, an appeal to “see” the one who is at the door and who remains invisible to the rich man, hidden behind his belongings.


See similar pictures


It is traditional to centre the representation on the rich man’s banquet; Lazarus being rejected in the composition as in his life.


Dives and Lazarus; Boniface VERONESE; 1540-50; oil on canvas; Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice.

Web Gallery of Art



The rich Man and Lazarus; workshop of Domenico FETTI; 1618-28; oil on panel; National Gallery of Art, Washington

 National Gallery Washington


Two more original pictures of Lazarus: The lonely imploring man and Lazarus dressed as a pilgrim of St James. In both cases, the picture is close to that of St Roch and his dog.


Lazarus; Adrien de VRIES; bronze; Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Web Gallery of Art



The Feast of Dives; Master of James IV of Scotland; Flemish work; 1510-20; tempera, gold and ink on parchment; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Paul Getty trust


A representation of the whole story: the banquet and the retribution “in Abraham’s bosom” for Lazarus and in hell for the rich man.

The diptych divides the narrative into rectangles but the engraving juxtaposes the elements in a complex manner, yet visible from left to right.


The rich Man and Lazarus; Julius Schnorr von CAROLSFELD; 1860; engraving from “Bibel in Bildern”.




The rich Man’s Dinner, his Torture in Hell and Lazarus in Abraham’s Bosom; Bernaert van ORLEY; 1521; oil on oak; Triptych of Virtue of Patience (closed); Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels.

Web Gallery of Art




Further developments

The picture  of Lazarus and the rich man is fairly often present in church porches where poor beggars are to be found. But what kind of poverty is it?

In the Middle-Ages, the poor man par excellence was the leper and the man of the parable has become “St Lazarus”, patron and protector of lepers. One can see Lazarus with a clapper to announce his presence and a wooden bowl to receive gifts without being touched.

As early as the 17th century, the word “lazar-house” designated a place where the sick were confined until one could see if they were contagious but the disease one feared then was the plague and no longer leprosy.


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