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“Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Diego Velázquez

"Christ in the House of Martha and Mary" by Diego Velázquez

“Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Diego Velázquez

“Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Diego Velázquez depicts the interior of a kitchen with two women in the foreground, and the background is a biblical scene. The religious scene shows the story of Martha and Mary, according to the Gospel of Luke 10:38–42.

In the kitchen, the older woman on the left is directing the younger girl in the preparation of a meal. On the table are several foods, including fish, eggs, and garlic. Perhaps the ingredients of aioli with a garlic mayonnaise made to accompany fish.

In the story of Martha and Mary, Christ goes to the house of a woman named Martha. Her sister, Mary, sat at his feet and listened to him speak. Martha, on the other hand, went to “make all the preparations that had to be made.” Upset that Mary did not help her, she complained to Christ, and he responded with:

“Martha, Martha, … you are worried and upset about many things,
but only one thing is needed.
Mary has chosen what is better,
and it will not be taken away from her.”

In the painting, Christ is shown as a bearded man in a blue tunic. He gestures at Martha, the woman standing behind Mary, rebuking her in her frustration.

What made Velázquez’s paintings of this genre unique is the way he created ambiguity. Is this scene a painting on the wall. Or a representation of the thoughts of the kitchen maid in the foreground. Or an actual incident which is seen through a window.

Bodegón Art

This painting by Diego Velázquez dates to his Seville period, it was painted in 1618, shortly after he completed his apprenticeship. At this time, Velázquez was experimenting with “Bodegon” settings. This form of genre painting was set in taverns or kitchens which was frequently used to relate scenes of contemporary Spain to themes and stories from the Bible.

This genre contained depictions of people working in the preparation of food and drink. In Velázquez’s art, the people were extraordinarily realistic. They were probably painted from his household or acquaintances as they appear in other paintings by Velázquez’s from the same time in the “bodegon” genre.

The term “bodega” in Spanish can mean “pantry,” “tavern,” or “wine cellar.”

Diego Velázquez’s Seville Period

Velázquez was born in Seville, Spain, his paternal grandparents, had moved to Seville from their native Portugal decades earlier. When Velázquez was offered knighthood in 1658, he claimed descent from the lesser nobility to qualify; however, his grandparents were tradespeople, and possibly Jewish conversos.

Velázquez was educated to fear God and received training in languages and philosophy. He showed an early gift for art, and he began to study under Francisco de Herrera. Velázquez remained with him for one year. At 12 years old, Velázquez began to serve as an apprentice under Francisco Pacheco, an artist, and teacher in Seville. Velázquez remained in Pacheco’s school for five years, studying proportion and perspective and witnessing the trends in the literary and artistic circles of Seville.

A few years after this painting, with his position and reputation established in Seville, he married Juana Pacheco, the daughter of his teacher. Among Velázquez’s early works are bodegones (kitchen scenes with prominent still-life) such as this painting. Velázquez move to Madrid started in 1622 when he went to the capital with letters of introduction to the chaplain to the King.

Diego Velázquez

Diego Velázquez was a Spanish painter, who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV of Spain, and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. From the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Velázquez’s artwork was an influence for realist and impressionist painters, in particular, Édouard Manet. Many modern artists, including Picasso and Dalí, have paid tribute to Velázquez by recreating several of his most famous works.

Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary

  • Title:                     Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
  • Spanish:               Cristo en casa de Marta y María
  • Artist:                   Diego Velázquez
  • Year:                    1618
  • Medium:              Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions        Height: 60 cm (23.6 ″); Width: 103.5 cm (40.7 ″)
  • Museum:             The National Gallery, London

Diego Velázquez

Reflections

  • Is this religious scene, a painting on the wall, a representation of the thoughts of the people in the foreground, or an actual incident seen through a window?

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“I’ll never get tired of hearing your sweet words, but I will get tired of not.”
– Diego Velazquez

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Photo Credit: Diego Velázquez [Public domain]

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