Friday, May 4, 2007

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha--two paintings

As with last week's pairing, the intent here is to invite commentary and, if you are so inclined, a full-blown post on these paintings (which I will be more than happy to post here), their similarities and differences.

Here is Luke's account of the scene depicted.

by Velázquez, 1618

by Vermeer, 1654-1656


John B. said...

For what it's worth, a couple of weeks after the fact . . .

One thing that immediately jumps out at me is that the Velázquez is actually more "Dutch" in manner than the Vermeer is, with its device of using a window or doorway or possibly, in this case, a mirror or framed picture to create a plane-within-a-plane. The Vermeer, meanwhile, strikes me as looking more like something that Velázquez might have done.

But those aren't the reasons I chose these paintings. What's fascinating to me is that the Vermeer, painted fairly early in his career, is a pretty straightforward depiction of the events of Luke 10:38-42 (though Arthur Wheelock notes in his comments on the painting that by grouping Martha and Mary together he is, to coin a phrase, taking the Catholic part--that is, that Martha's service to her guest is quietly affirmed along with Mary's listening).

The Velázquez, though, is considerably more complex. As with his Supper at Emmaus (discussed here), the intent seems not to depict a very familiar story from the Gospel but to offer some larger commentary, perhaps on the Gospel itself, or perhaps, Caravaggio-like, some oblique social commentary.

Whether the image in the upper-right corner is a painting or a mirror, it's clear that the women in the kitchen are not Mary and Martha. If a subtext for this painting is John 11:1-44 (the raising of Lazarus from the dead), then Mary and Martha are sisters of some prominence; they almost certainly would have had help in the kitchen--such as the women we see in the foreground, perhaps. Martha, having taken and set down the bowl and pitcher, doesn't look as though she'll be returning to the kitchen soon; that may explain the sad tension in the younger woman's face. Mary and, now, Martha having chosen the better part, the meal still needs to be prepared.

Maybe. The folds of this particular irregular pearl of a painting are especially convoluted.

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