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“The Allegory of Faith” by Johannes Vermeer

"The Allegory of Faith" by Johannes Vermeer

“The Allegory of Faith” by Johannes Vermeer

“The Allegory of Faith” by Johannes Vermeer was painted about 1670 and depicts a woman in an elegant white and blue satin dress with gold trimmings. She is surrounded by iconography related to faith. 

She sits on a platform a step higher than the marble floor, her right foot on a terrestrial globe and her right hand on her heart as she looks up, adoringly, at a glass sphere hung from the ceiling by a blue ribbon.

Vermeer’s iconography in the painting is mostly taken from an academic book of allegorical illustrations. The book had accompanying moral themes, which had been translated into Dutch in 1644.

The book of allegorical illustrations provides many of the symbols in the painting. The symbolism includes the color of the woman’s clothing, her hand gesture, and the presence of the crushed snake and the apple.

Amongst the many symbols in this painting are the following:

  • The woman is dressed in white signifying light and purity;
  • The blue in the women’s dress relates to heaven;
  • Her hand on her breast symbolizes that the virtue rests in her heart;
  • Christ is represented in the cornerstone crushing the snake, a symbol of the Devil;
  • The apple, the fruit Eve gave to Adam represents original sin, which in Christian doctrine required the sacrifice of the Savior;
  • The globe of the earth under the woman’s right foot symbolizes Faith as having the world under her feet;
  • The woman’s pearl necklace relates to pearls as ancient symbols of virginity; and
  • The sphere is a symbol of the human mind and its capacity to reflect and to believe in God.

The painting’s iconography also has Catholic symbolism influenced by Jesuit ideas. The woman’s left arm is resting on the edge of a table, which holds a golden chalice, a large book, and a dark-wood crucifix.

Behind the crucifix is a gilt-leather panel screen. Beneath the book is a long piece of priest’s cloth. Resting on top of the book is a crown of thorns on the far wall behind the woman, a large painting of Christ’s crucifixion.

Vermeer was born and raised Protestant but converted to Catholicism on the occasion of his marriage into a Catholic family.

Allegory

Allegory in Art is used to illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are understandable or striking to its viewers.

The origins of Allegory can be traced at least back to Homer in his use of personifications of Terror (Deimos) and Fear (Phobos). There many Allegorical Paintings in museums including:

Johannes Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675) was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful painter in his lifetime.

However, he was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death.

There are only thirty-four paintings by Vermeer, and they are challenging to date. Vermeer painted mostly domestic interior scenes, and most of his pictures are set in the rooms of his house in Delft.

There are similar furniture and decorations in various arrangements in his domestic scenes, and his art often portrays the same people.  He was not wealthy, as he left his family in debt after his death.

He produced relatively few paintings compared to his contemporaries. Art historians mainly overlooked Vermeer’s works for several centuries after his death. 

However, his reputation has skyrocketed in the last few hundred years, and he is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.

The Allegory of Faith – Allegory of the Catholic Faith

  • Title:                The Allegory of Faith, also known as Allegory of the Catholic Faith
  • Artist:               Johannes Vermeer
  • Year:                1670 –72
  • Type:               Oil on canvas
  • Period:             Dutch Golden Age
  • Dimensions:    Height: 114.3 cm (45 ″); Width: 88.9 cm (35 ″)
  • Museum:        Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Johannes Vermeer

Vermeer and Allegory Through the Ages

Explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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“Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

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Photo Credit: 1) Johannes Vermeer [Public domain]

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