The painting, Allegory of Faith, located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was created by the Dutch Baroque painter Johannes Vermeer. This study of the painting will focus on the subject matter, composition, and the symbolic meaning of the painting in relation to the Catholic faith, as well as the controversy surrounding the success of the painting among modern critics. The characteristic Baroque qualities of this painting will be illuminated through comparison with examples of Dutch 17th century paintings, Vermeer’s other works, and an analysis of his painting technique and style.
The Allegory of Faith is considered to be one of Vermeer’s least successful works by some art historians.<<1
Edward Snow. A Study of Vermeer (Berkley: University of California Press, 1979) 110. >> The painting features a large, pale skinned woman, whose one foot is resting on a globe while she’s staring nowhere in particular in what would appear to be a state of ecstasy. <<2
Anthony Bailey. Vermeer: A View of Delft (New York: Henry Holt, 2001) 179.>> Her left arm is lying on what looks like an altar with a gold chalice, an open Bible, and a crucifix, while her right hand is holding her left breast. <<3
Bailey 179>> On the marble floor there is an apple with a bite taken out of it along with a snake crushed by some masonry. <<4
Bailey 179>> There is a curtain hanging unconvincingly against a chair and a glass sphere hanging from the ceiling.<<5
Snow 110>> Finally, on the wall in the background, hangs a painting of the Crucifixion, which has been identified as a work by Jacob Jordaens, a Flemish painter. <<6
The Allegory of Faith was possibly painted for the Catholic chaplain in The Hague, Pere Leon, although it ended up with a Protestant collector before it was sold. <<7
Bailey 179>> Even so, the work would have probably been better titled Allegory of the Catholic Faith.<<8
Daniel Arasse. Vermeer: Faith In Painting (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994) 84.>> This is because its main function is most definitely to be a representation of faith as defined by the Roman Catholic Church. <<9
Arasse 84>> The glass sphere, attached to the ceiling by a ribbon, for example, was taken ...
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...hs 61>> Still the most important aspect of Vermeer’s work is the atmosphere created by his use of light. <<52
Fuchs 61>> It seems to scatter throughout the scene, gently touching the colors while being slightly modified by them. <<53
In conclusion, the Allegory of Faith presents an interesting and innovative, if somewhat controversial, effort on Jan Vermeer’s part. Despite the uncharacteristic choice of subject matter, the painting still possesses most of the qualities of his later work. It also underscores Vermeer’s allegiance to Catholicism, despite the Netherlands falling under Protestant control. Finally, it is a significant and somewhat unusual work in the Baroque period of art history.
Arasse, Daniel. Vermeer: Faith In Painting. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994.
Bailey, Anthony. Vermeer: A View of Delft. New York: Henry Holt, 2001.
Fuchs, R. H. Dutch Painting. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978.
Pops, Martin. Vermeer: Consciousness and the Chamber of Being. Ann Harbor: UMI Research Press, 1984.
Snow, Edward. A Study of Vermeer. Berkley: University of California Press, 1979.
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