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Starting in the mid-16th century, Aertsen developed a new type of Netherlandish painting with his depictions of kitchens and markers. In most cases he integrated into them Christian scenes, which, however, are always conspicuously smaller and placed in the background of the composition. German art historians invented the term “manieristische Umkehrung” (Mannerist reversal) for this new development. In this early example, such a scene is at the left edge of the painting, sharply set off by the contour of the dark wall that separates the foreground from the background: “[…] But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40–42.) The central phrase in this passage can be read on the mantlepiece: “Maria heeft wtuercoren dat beeste deel.” A tradition dating back to St. Augustine identifies the two sisters with the rinciples of the vita activa (Martha) and the vita contemplativa (Mary). Here, however, they are not to be understood as opposites but rather as complementary, creating a whole in the tasks of Christian action and thought.
In the foreground, Aertsen has masterfully depicted an assemblage of the
characteristic objects of daily life: bread on a plate, various pitchers and jugs,
a leg of venison and a bouquet of flowers as the principal motifs, carefully
folded documents and a money pouch hung on the door of a massive chest in the foreground. True to the biblical story, these are objects from the affluent
household of Mary. At the same time, however, they are also the requisites for a vanitas still life.
© Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery, Vienna 2010

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