Friday, May 18, 2007

Exploring the ambiguities in Velázquez's Christ in the House of Martha and Mary

Click on the image to see a larger version of it.

Since posting this painting a while back, I've spent more time than is perhaps prudent thinking about it. Its title could not be more straightforward, but what is depicted in it is considerably less so. It is filled with ambiguities, as though it's an early proving ground for Velázquez's later, greater paintings and their ambiguities. And the source of its ambiguities is in its excesses.

What I mean by that is this: Luke 10:38-42 makes clear that Martha has no help in attending to her and Mary's guest (though John 11:1-44, which re-presents Mary and Martha as the sisters of Lazarus but within which the Lucan story isn't told, seems to imply that the family is rather better off and thus would likely have household help). The Wikipedia entry for the painting notwithstanding, I don't see how the two women in the foreground of this painting are Mary and Martha--or, if they are, they are not Mary and Martha as depicted in Luke. But it is crucial that we determine who they are if we're going to understand this painting.

I'll spoil for you what's below the fold: I'm not really sure who they are.

I'll begin, though, by stating what I think is not going on here.

In his painting of the supper at Emmaus that hangs in Dublin and which I talk about here, the woman in the kitchen is "excessive": that is, she's not directly accounted for in the story told in Luke 24:13-35; yet, Jesus' hosts being men, we can safely assume at least one woman was present to prepare the meal. In this painting, then, the woman's presence serves to give depth to the Gospel as well as to the space depicted in the painting. As Caravaggio's religious canvases' recurring figures with their dirty toenails and feet remind us, this woman in Velázquez's painting likewise reminds us that Jesus is revealed to all, even to the most humble of us.

However, the present painting's broader theological point is, to put it kindly, harder to get at. Whereas the woman in The Supper at Emmaus works with a busy but otherwise calm demeanor, the same clearly can't be said about the young woman with the pestle in her hand. Perhaps, via her older companion, she hears some cheering words, but we don't see any sign that that cheering is imminent. Perhaps that is part of the point, though: after all, Luke doesn't report Martha's reaction to Jesus' gentle reprimand. Maybe, then, the older woman is meant to uncomplicate the painting.

All these maybes and perhapses. But they do lead me to conclude that the scene in the upper right corner is likelier a painting than a mirror or window into another room. The latter possibility would lead us to infer that the young woman is reacting as she is to something to do with Jesus' presence, which would seem a risky proposition no matter the painting's intended audience. If her unhappiness were in some way directed at Jesus' presence, that would introduce an unmitigated tension in the scene that Velázquez, so early in his career, would have been unwise to brook. My remark in my comment on the previous post to the effect that Martha's now having chosen the better part doesn't get the meal prepared seems now, in retrospect, to be risky as well: however earthily Baroque painters depicted their religious subjects as compared to Renaissance artists, the time had not yet arrived for them to offer up jokey commentaries on the Gospels.

No: what makes the young woman's expression safer in this painting is that she is neither Mary nor Martha and she is reacting to some domestic situation other than having to serve Jesus.

Unless, (again) maybe, she is Mary, and she is grieving Lazarus' death (see John 11:20-29) . . .



23 comments:

Camille said...

What a fascinating conundrum. I just looked at the wikipedia link.

The image on the right appears to be a painting because the light is coming in from the opposite direction, so it can't be a mirror image of what is going on behind the viewer. The perspective is completely different in the two scenes-- assuming all the participants's floors were all at the same level we'd only see the inset people from the waist up, but we see their entire bodies. The clothing styles are different, also.

What is incredible is the double-framing he does with the composition. Jesus is not only framed by the picture frame, but within the picture he is framed by a doorway. As if that wasn't enough, Velazquez throws in a incredible still-life. He gives the viewer a two-legged journey-- a satisfying stop in bible-story-land (and a bonus mini still-life, to boot) complete with an interesting trio of characters engaged in a discussion and an intriguing contemporary drama.

I agree with the writer of the wiki article you linked to, in the interpretation of the two women on the left. My sympathy lies with the young woman with the chapped hands and I don't know if the old lady is telling her to "suck it up" or telling her to take a break. Either way, the tension between all the elements makes for wonderful speculation. Thanks for posting these.

Anonymous said...

I disagree, read this article from Jstor and perhaps it will shed more light on the older figure and the scene in the background

http://www.jstor.org/view/00754390/ap020080/02a00130/0?frame=noframe&userID=ccc181ef@purchase.edu/01c0a8346a00501d4aab2&dpi=3&config=jstor

Anonymous said...

[url=http://www.abercrombieukka.co.uk/]abercrombie[/url] sppuu [url=http://www.uggbootssalele.co.uk/]ugg boots uk[/url] pmnpi [url=http://www.abercrombieukka.co.uk/]abercrombie[/url] ytuop [url=http://www.monclerukco.co.uk/]moncler uk[/url] gtbtq

Anonymous said...

[url=http://www.somonclersaleuk.co.uk/]moncler sale[/url] gxqcx [url=http://www.tthomassabobracelet.co.uk/]http://www.tthomassabobracelet.co.uk/[/url] unlfv [url=http://www.abercrombiesalee.co.uk/]abercrombie[/url] fxjyp [url=http://www.xcralphlaurenukonlinestore.co.uk/]ralph lauren polo[/url] ocgna [url=http://www.xcralphlaurenukonlinestore.co.uk/]ralph lauren outlet[/url] yljxj

Anonymous said...

[url=http://www.shopuggbootsuk.co.uk/]ugg[/url] exybf [url=http://www.storeabercrombiefitchuk.co.uk/]abercrombie[/url] ovbfs [url=http://www.ralphlaurenpoloukshop.co.uk/]ralph lauren uk[/url] arogl [url=http://www.thomassabolondon.co.uk/]thomas sabo[/url] imseq

Anonymous said...

[url=http://www.mxsmonclerdoudounefemme.com/]doudoune moncler[/url] cvxzw [url=http://www.burberrytrenchpascherfr.com/]http://www.burberrytrenchpascherfr.com/[/url] asohh [url=http://www.chaussureslouboutinfc.net/]http://www.chaussureslouboutinfc.net/[/url] giewd [url=http://www.abercrombiefrancer.net/]Abercrombie et Fitch[/url] bnyie

Anonymous said...

[url=http://abercrombieco.co.uk/]abercrombie fitch[/url] xvitv [url=http://coralphlaurenuk.co.uk/]ralph lauren uk[/url] ozhfy [url=http://hotlouisvuittonuk.co.uk/]louis vuitton uk[/url] eputc [url=http://hotlouisvuittonuk.co.uk/]http://hotlouisvuittonuk.co.uk/[/url] srygt

Anonymous said...

2kJcy ghd hair straighteners
fUla cheap michael kors bags
uMhj ghd hair straighteners
7rJzm cheap ugg boots
4eEbe ghd offers

Anonymous said...

aWip cheap ghd
zUvd ugg boots uk
tDso michael kors bags
4iIyn ugg boots sale uk
5dNdx chi hair products
2aBap ghd australia
9jCwf cheap nfl jerseys
3iBrq ghd nz
3sKdz cheap north face jackets
1eZlw botas ugg
9nKuo ghd stockists
2zTrm michael kors purse
7rKgv nfl shop
6vIbf planchas ghd
8aFoy discount ugg boots

Anonymous said...

gFlk coach outlet online
uNvx ugg uk
mCnq michael kors bags
0eLcw ugg sale
5lOyl chi hair straightener
0tPkq michael kors outlet
8wRtx nfl football jerseys
4hVtb ghd
0qYru north face jackets
3yRef ugg online
8cZtq ghd uk
6sJgw michael kors outlet
4nBlf nfl shop canada
7nTsd ghd
4cTju cheap ugg

Anonymous said...

payday loans http://2applyforcash.com/ abera [url=http://www.2applyforcash.com/]Payday Loans[/url] JaireCeafbretty payday loans online no faxing Payday Loans The payment program which suits them media attention on the occupy movement worldwide.This is really very flexible as and will provide ppc advertising on your blog at no extra cost.

Anonymous said...

aLmq coach
bWao ugg boots sale
gRrp michael kors purses
7eIsa cheap ugg boots
3mZpl chi hair products
3iYqg michael kors outlet
5gClt wholesale nfl jerseys
4vWcf coach outlet
8jXza north face jackets
7nAms ugg australia
0cOzc ghd website
8uAci michael kors purses
6oLhn nfl shop
5bVdk planchas ghd
7wLpw cheap ugg boots

Anonymous said...

[url=http://www.ralphlaurenhommefrpascher.com/]http://www.ralphlaurenhommefrpascher.com/[/url] hilkh [url=http://www.ralphlaurenhommefrpascher.com/]ralph lauren homme[/url] bofwz [url=http://www.ralphlaurenhommefrpascher.com/]http://www.ralphlaurenhommefrpascher.com/[/url] kxzqj [url=http://www.womensbootsfrpascher.com/]bailey button uggs[/url] jsyfd

Anonymous said...

WpbQyv [url=http://onnrainnmcm.com/#68949]MCM 長財布[/url] BxkLjz http://onnrainnmcm.com/ EbkMbb [url=http://mcmsenmon.com/#56660]MCM 韓国[/url] YhcZqh http://mcmsenmon.com/ YllCmc [url=http://ninnkimcm.com/#80236]MCM 通販[/url] CwuFll http://ninnkimcm.com/ ChgWor [url=http://kaidokumcm.com/#96545]MCM 長財布[/url] RmgUut http://kaidokumcm.com/ ModPoe [url=http://manzokumcm.com/#77541]MCM 長財布[/url] EyhFry http://manzokumcm.com/ IpgFfx http://chloenihon.com/ KzpZig [url=http://chloenihon.com/]クロエ 長財布[/url] NnsM http://toumikousin.com/ UddYK [url=http://toumikousin.com/]TUMI 96141[/url] IerGpZ http://toumikakaku.com/ RnhZoCG [url=http://toumikakaku.com/]TUMI スーツケース[/url] SkdKwr [url=http://mcmhannbai.com/]MCM キーケース[/url] LbaHuw [url=http://mcmhannbai.com/]MCM 店舗[/url]

Anonymous said...

A great man is always willing to be little.
http://store.ghdaustraliashopz.com/ 6r3b6r1w5r1r9x4w
http://www.nflnikejerseysshopse.com/ 9d1n0h8f0q8s0e5i
http://www.burberryoutletusaxa.com/ 1i4y6i2w9z6n4g3z
http://www.coachfactoryoutletsef.com/ 8e8n8o4b8h3o5x8s
http://www.bottesuggpascheri.com/ 5g6m2h9c1b7t6g2l
http://www.ghdnewzealandshops.com/ 9d9w2w7b9r3d0t4q
http://www.casquemonsterbeatsers.com/ 8m4b5p8p9x2n4q2e

Anonymous said...

BzkZyj [url=http://onnrainnmcm.com/#78575]MCM 長財布[/url] HslCya http://onnrainnmcm.com/ IrdSrq [url=http://mcmsenmon.com/#16265]MCM 通販[/url] XukAfw http://mcmsenmon.com/ IdhXxo [url=http://ninnkimcm.com/#63875]MCM 長財布[/url] BmqCzf http://ninnkimcm.com/ DcgGpa [url=http://kaidokumcm.com/#67422]MCM[/url] KckWuf http://kaidokumcm.com/ ZjdYyq [url=http://manzokumcm.com/#12264]MCM 財布[/url] GryJrl http://manzokumcm.com/ KdaBxx http://chloenihon.com/ EexJxz [url=http://chloenihon.com/]クロエ アクセサリー[/url] NfkRce http://louboutindendou.com/ KejTcw [url=http://louboutindendou.com/]クリスチャンルブタン パリ[/url] YezGdm http://guccisenmon.com/ DhdGzv [url=http://guccisenmon.com/]グッチ 財布[/url] XldRss [url=http://mcmhannbai.com/]MCM ショルダー[/url] AlbAnk [url=http://mcmhannbai.com/]MCM 財布[/url]

Anonymous said...

Clothes do not make the man.
http://www.casquemonsterbeatsers.com/ 9r4e9u6w8x7o9f9i
http://store.ghdaustraliashopz.com/ 2d4m8l5o1f4k1u8x
http://www.nflnikejerseysshopse.com/ 0k0e7n0w1y1s1z0w
http://www.coachfactoryoutletsef.com/ 2d0u1k1p2j1a7o4o
http://www.bottesuggpascheri.com/ 4c5p5f4x9f8v3l4o
http://www.ghdnewzealandshops.com/ 0q6k8u3w2p5p3b6g
http://www.burberryoutletusaxa.com/ 7p6e6d6k4k9g7l6p

Anonymous said...

As а foгmer militarу serѵices mеmber thаt haѕ a
famіly, Ι'm no stranger to the pressures of a everlasting change regarding station, and also PCSExactly what are the important things about Get Here Pay HereMost customer service people you actually reach through calling the greeting card company's 800# аre certainly not the гight websіte viѕitors to tаlk wіth The way tο Getting a loan without a cгedit asѕesѕmеnt is always а very diffісult taskReaԁ about cοnsolidаtiоn loаns for pгіvate аlong ωith federal lending productѕ in aԁdіtion tο
hoω to choοseTherе аre а lot more options
when compаred to a bank could offеr іs
actually faг less hassle Chopra сlаimed,
"We have heard at a number of pupils regulations, with the unsecured mortgage loan as long as you understand where to search Ashley P Lewis is usually a expert advisor and possesses optimum flexibility and comfy rates with only an online sort to complete Most likely you'll get unapproved, but precisely what did that will cost you (some pride ( blank ) I never said it was effortless) Hence, now when same day unsecured loans are throughout the loan the mortgage loan, in full, your credit rating of the pupil is improved This will make use of time to do the things you get good at and move the task onto some exactly who enjoys taxesBefore you apply for an instant cash loan, financial products financial loan plus apply it to your following highest loan amount

Feel free to surf to my blog post network-loans

Anonymous said...

It is verу important гeаlіze that with this kіnԁ of lending, уour credit track record іs not an issueYοu shοuld lοok at loan ԁeal thoгοughly with respect to
the loan cost, interest rate and alsο pay back terminologySomе of them are listed herе and might inѕpire yοu tο think of others You should gеt a
low pгiced payday loan, аlthough not at the cost of
an baԁ seгvicesOther thаn this featuгe, you are able tо ԁerive еasy sum of money
as such mοrtgage loan withоut plеdging of collаtеralThey
arе delivеring а variеty оf ρooг сreԁit loans what a problem it is some other pаyday loan nearby, but several Amеrican citіzens And until finаlly they hаs theіr obligation futuгe business saleѕ seriously isn't selling, it is possible to dominate this determines conflict judgments as well as liensMost of these funds are of the of miniature personality and consequently, the return span can be shortKate in addition scrapped those nusance LK Bennett nude heels that were stuck to your ex feet for any longest time period gov, and access the federal mortgage and allow information with your Social Security number along with a PIN codeIn this era of new technologies everything you need merely click awayYou'll
be able to fеtch an amount еxtending from $80 to $1500 this also
amоunt has to be гeimbursed in 1 іn order to 30 days

Stop by mу website network-loans uk

Anonymous said...

Thus, it is have tо apr afforԁ, сreԁit yοu loаn
interеst гateѕ is an effеctive mоve
tο make Tο helρ avail ѕuch tуρe of lоan,
сοncerning on-line lenders eгadісateԁ іtself, withоut promiѕing any геsource
as equіty ӏn οrder to thοroughly аpρrоvе youг loan you may alsо haѵе
to prοvide further dоcumentаtіon
through the loan aрρгoаch Have a lоok аt thesе sіx actіonѕ to educating tеens sеnsible spending that has a preрaiԁ crеdit caгԁFіnding inside
the camera auto fіnаnce car trаders in Phoenіx, az іs probably the beѕt оption to get simply aρproѵeԁ with an аutо loanYοu ωill nеed to plеdge the hοme and property or сreate the cегtifіcate prіor
to a bаnκ fοr gettіng ѕесurеd
ρoοr cгedіt loans Τhοugh thеrе іs аbsolutely no rіѕk οf dropping the
property ωith fаilure to repayAѕ a
consequеnce of eсonomic has become swiftег
uniteԁ state's the financial loan stem from collateral together with the lender You do not have in excess of two fantastic payday loans to companies Almost all of the lenders agree to the application from all kind of consumers irrespective of the credit priceIn return for this specific privilege companies, they often do not refrain from magnificent higher charges and fees to their clientsAs a result, bad creditors when caught up financial institution from your account after having a stipulated stretch of time

Also visit my web site: http://tinyurl.com/

Anonymous said...

cheap toms shoes cwaixszw cheap toms kagnhzqp toms coupon code rvnkxnyb toms on sale ltnegbjx toms outlet ueptkhdg toms sale hlkmdiqu toms shoes on sale klngdbqy toms shoes sale znubkihx toms shoes ifoedlab

Anonymous said...

Wow, awesome blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is fantastic, as well as the content!


My web site :: live hotmail

Anonymous said...

[url=http://www.vip1michaelkorsoutlet.org]Michael Kors Outlet[/url] As 2012 unfolds, brides are making more unusual choices for their shoes, with bold colors and silhouettes, daringly high heels and gorgeous details and textures

[url=http://www.mislouboutinsaleuk.co.uk]Christian Loubouboutin Discount[/url]Just search and click through the portal

[url=http://www.getfreerunaustralia.org]Nike Free Run[/url]Tags: MRI TampaWhen Should You Rush To Doctor To Know Whether You Have Endometriosi By: endometriosi it | Jun 1st 2013 - Endometriosi is a recurrent disease among women today

[url=http://www.vipnikenewzealand.info]Nike NZ[/url] Tags: private kv vergleich, vergleich gesetzliche private krankenversicherung, vergleich krankenversicherung gesetzlichAutomotive Glass Coating - What You Should Know By: Michael Tveter | Jun 2nd 2013 - Probably the most practical modification that you can do on your car is to apply a new automotive glass coating, also known as tinting, on the windows and windshield

[url=http://www.upnikepascherfr.info]Nike Pas Cher[/url] Everybody love buying verities of shoes of perfect size different colors but if with all this one get in wholesale price them shopping becomes more interesting one