The Young Vermeer

  • 8th December 2010 − 13th March 2011 | Scottish National Gallery (Scottish National Gallery) | Admission free

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary is Vermeer's largest painting, and was probably painted around 1654-55. Here Vermeer demonstrates his mastery in rendering light, while the broad brushstrokes show him experimenting with various techniques. Its bright, intense colours are untypical of Vermeer and this painting was not associated with him until 1901, when his signature was discovered at the lower left on the side of the foot-stool.

The balanced composition shows three figures closely linked by their gesture and gaze. This interaction portrays the essence of the biblical story, in which Martha objected to Mary listening to Jesus while she herself was busy serving. Christ pleaded that Martha place the spiritual above the material. Vermeer emphasized the moral of the story by contrasting Christ's pointing hand against the white tablecloth.

In 1653, Vermeer had married Catharina Bolnes in Delft. She came from a wealthy Catholic family. While there is no written evidence, Vermeer probably likely had converted to Catholicism shortly before. The young couple soon moved in with Vermeer's mother-in-law Maria Thins. Given the unusual size it is likely that Christ in the House of Martha and Mary was a specific commission, possibly intended for a clandestine Catholic church in Delft or for a Catholic patron, perhaps even Vermeer's mother-in-law.