Allegory of the Catholic Faith

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

In this unusual painting by Johannes Vermeer, the female figure represents the Catholic faith.

She has under her foot a realistic Dutch globe, which is intended to represent the dominance of the Catholic religion over the entire world during the 17th century.

She's looking up to another sphere: a glass ball hanging by a ribbon from the ceiling, which was actually a decorative item you might find occasionally in Dutch homes. The Dutch were fascinated by reflections, but here, it stands for heaven.

In the foreground, a snake–or the devil–is crushed by a rock that represents Christ, who was called the "cornerstone of the Church."

In the painting above, Christ dies to redeem mankind...

...whose original sin is symbolized by the apple on the floor.

And beside the woman is an altar table displaying a missal, containing the wording for the Mass.

Intriguingly, these elements of Catholic worship seem to appear in an ordinary Dutch house at a time when the official state religion was Protestantism.

This is actually what happened in Dutch homes of the time. Catholics worshiped in chapels within ordinary houses, due to the city government requiring Catholics to worship in private, with no outward sign of their religion.

Finally, there's a medieval tapestry. Any kind of curtain drawn aside suggests that there's a special space beyond the space that the viewer is in, and the broad idea of revelation—that we're looking at a vision of something which is not quite our reality but something above us.

Credits: Story

This exhibition is part of the Google Vermeer Project.

Credits: All media
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