Symbols in Vermeer

Interpreting Vermeer’s Allegory of the Catholic Faith

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Allegory of the Catholic Faith (ca. 1670-72) by Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, Delft)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Literate viewers in the seventeenth century would have quickly understood the messages hidden in details of this painting. Today, these symbols might need more explanation...

Allegory of the Catholic Faith (1670) by Johannes VermeerThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

To ground his allegory of Catholicism in the world around him, Vermeer sets his scene in a domestic space. Here you can see a missal, chalice, and crucifix. Public celebration of the ritual was illegal in the Protestant Dutch Republic, so Catholics worshipped Mass at home.

Allegory of the Catholic Faith (1670) by Johannes VermeerThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Suggesting God’s dominion over earth, a woman personifying the Catholic Church rests a foot on the globe.

Allegory of the Catholic Faith (1670) by Johannes VermeerThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

In contrast to the solid terrestrial globe at the woman’s feet, this delicate glass orb may reflect Vermeer’s vision of Heaven.

Allegory of the Catholic Faith (1670) by Johannes VermeerThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

The cornerstone of a church crushes a serpent, perhaps representing Catholicism’s victory over sin.

Allegory of the Catholic Faith (1670) by Johannes VermeerThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

With a curtain pulled aside, Vermeer evokes the hidden churches where Catholics were forced to worship in the Protestant Dutch Republic.

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