dinsdag 22 februari 2011

Christ in the house of Martha and Mary (1658)

Edinburgh, National Gallery / www.natgalscot.ac.uk

This was one of Vermeer's earliest paintings. Paintings of biblical themes were classified as histories, which were described in treatises on art as most distinguished tasks. Vermeer probably wanted to demonstrate his abilities in this genre upon entry to the Guild of St. Luke.

Vermeer loved strong colour contrasts. The bright white tablecloth contrasts sharply with Mary's vermilion blouse and Christ's blue robe. Given the many genre paintings done by Vermeer, it is perhaps surprising to realise that the earliest of his works known to us are of the type of paintings known in his time as histories. It apparently seemed important to the young artist (or it was expected of him) to prove that he possessed the abilities of an "educated artist", upon his admission to the painters' guild; such an artist would be able to inform what the art world considered to be lofty subjects with decorum, in a proper and becoming manner.

In contrast to many works of Vermeer's late period, Christ in the House of Mary and Martha is a relatively large painting (160 x 142 cm). It depicts a New Testament scene from the Gospel of St. Luke, where the evangelist tells us how Christ went to a market, and was invited home for a meal by a woman called Martha. While Martha was busy in the kitchen, her sister Mary listened to Christ. Martha asked Christ why he did not ask Mary to help her serve, but he answered, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."

More information on Vermeers paintings


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