A well-known painting by Jan Vermeer Allegory of the Catholic Faith appears to be deeply symbolic and interesting to analyze. Despite being created in nearly 1670, the painting matches the principles of art criticism provided by John Berger in Ways of Seeing. Among the range of features and senses that the painting reveals, its deep symbolism and strong imagery are the most significant issues. Precisely the symbolic issues provide the viewers with the religious meaning of Vermeer’s work. Due to this painting, the artist is considered a faithful Catholic.

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Symbolism in Vermeer’s Allegory of the Catholic Faith

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Allegory of the Catholic Faith is different in comparison to other artworks created by Vermeer. First, it is unusually large in size, as it is 114.3 × 88.9 cm. Due to an exceptional quality of the work, it is possible to conclude that the painters like Vermeer “had no followers but only superficial imitators” (Berger 109).Besides, the painting contains a range of deeply symbolic statements. For instance, a richly decorated curtain on the foreground that is similar to a trellis introduces the scene that displays the embodiment of the Christian Faith. Faith appears to be the main character of the painting. It is surrounded by symbolic attributes taken from the famous book Iconologia by Cesare Ripa. The book was translated into Dutch in the middle of the XVII century.

Color shades used in the painting are deeply symbolic as well. The white and blue shades are the clear personifications of purity and truth, possessed by the Christian religion. A hand that is pressed to the chest indicates the depth of faith that comes directly from heart. Interestingly, there is a reproduction of the painting by the Antwerp artist Jacob Jordaens Crucifiction on the wall. The painting makes the emphasis on the exceptional importance of Vermeer’s scene.

Symbolic interpretation is the key issue of the painting, since the artist strives to reveal his own attitude to Catholic Church and Christian faith. The painting discloses “a symbol for something presumed to be larger than it” (Berger 144). For instance, Vermeer depicts a traditional interior of the secret Catholic Church behind the curtain. Gobelin curtain appears to be important symbol rather than the element of composition. As well as the church was secret and hidden from the public, a tapestry is a screen behind which the actions unfold. A figure of a seated woman in dramatic position, big bulging eyes aspiring upward, and a hand pressed to her breast. These elements are not occasional, since the artist strives to demonstrate repenting Mary Magdalene. A woman is a symbol of the Christian faith in accordance with Ripa’s Iconologia.

The painting provides the viewers with the crucifixion as almost the most valuable symbol of Christianity. An ebony crucifix with golden figure of Christ stands out against the background of the yellow-orange curtain on the right side of the painting. As the reminder of Christ’s sufferings, a crown of thorns is between the crucifix and the book. A table is the symbol of the Church’s altar that stands on a raised platform as it should be in any Catholic church. Podium is covered with the carpet or tapestry. Importantly, the carpets were expensive in the XVII century, that is why, they usually cannot be seen on the floor instead of the churches. The carpets usually decorated tables or walls.

Crucifixion, the Cup, and the Bible placed on the table make the emphasis on the fundamental role of the Eucharist and Christ’s sacrifice in the Catholic sacrament. Precisely these symbols make Catholic religious system different from Protestant trends, since Catholicism is concentrated on the exceptional value of bread and wine as Christ’s body and blood. Another important symbol is an apple that lies at the Faith’s feet. The apple can be a symbol of the forbidden fruit from Eden. According to the biblical traditions, the fruit was plucked by Eve, as she was sophisticated by a serpent. That is why, the fruit became the symbol of the man’s fall and mortal sin. The Scripture does not say in details what kind of fruit grows at the tree of knowledge. However, the apple appears to be one of the most well-known symbols of the forbidden fruit in the Western world.

Analysis of the main symbols appeared in painting Allegory of Catholic Faith makes possible to suggest that the work was ordered for the rich Catholic organization, family, or the Jesuit Order. The painting depicts two crucifixes – one on the background and second on the table. Besides, a large glass bowl on a blue ribbon hangs from the ceiling. According to the Jesuit Iconography, a glass bowl is a symbol of the human mind. It means that as a small sphere can reflect the whole world, the same is the human mind studying the Universe in spite of being so small. Obviously, “symbolism lies behind this painting” (Berger 54). The woman is depicted between the two spheres – the globe as the physical being and the glass bowl as a sphere of heaven.

In conclusion, the painting by Jan Vermeer Allegory of the Catholic Faith appears to be deeply symbolic. The artist strives to reveal and explain the most important symbols of the Catholic religious system. The composition, curtain, the church’s interior behind, the glass bowl, the globe, the table, the book, the woman, and the apple are valuable symbols of the painting. Precisely these symbols explain the differences between the Catholic religion and Protestant trends.

  • Gonzales, Erica. “Victoria’s Secret Just Invited Cara Delevingne to Walk in Paris Without Casting.” BAZAAR. Web. http://www.harpersbazaar.com