Christ in the House of Mary and Martha | Art for Proper 11C

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha
VELÁZQUEZ, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y
Christ in the House of Mary and Martha
c. 1620
Oil on canvas, 60 x 103,5 cm
National Gallery, London
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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, oil on canvas, 1618, Diego Velázquez, 1599-1660

In the seventeenth century, Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens and Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn were the two most noted artists in northern Europe, and Diego Velázquez was the unrivaled master of painting in Spain. Velázquez graduated from Don Francisco Pacheco’s workshop academy in Seville, married his daughter, and a few years later moved to Madrid. Soon he was working for King Philip IV at the Spanish Court where he remained throughout his life.

While he was still in Seville, Velázquez further developed skills and expanded his range of subjects by painting domestic settings. Kitchen scenes were popular with the public and often they conveyed an underlying message connecting everyday life in Spain with biblical events. “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” depicts a scene of a maid preparing garlic mayonnaise to go with the fish that will be served for dinner. The maid’s expression indicates she is upset and the woman behind her is calling attention to a scene in the upper right corner of the painting. We can not be sure if the smaller scene (like an inset) is intended to be a reflection in a mirror, a hatch (an opening) through which we are looking into an adjacent room, or a painting on the kitchen wall. Velázquez used devices such as reflections and paintings within paintings throughout his career.

In the usual interpretation of this painting, the two figures in the kitchen and the figures in the upper right hand scene are many centuries apart in time. The smaller scene shows Jesus seated in the home of Martha and Mary (Luke 10: 38-42). Mary is seated at his feet and Martha is standing behind her. In the biblical story, Martha became busy serving food and drink while Mary seemed oblivious to the fact that her sister was doing all of the work alone. Instead of helping her sister, Mary sat down and listened to Jesus. Martha was frustrated at this and wondered if Jesus cared that her sister was leaving all of the serving chores up to her; she hoped Jesus would ask Mary to help her. Jesus told Martha that her concern was misplaced and that in sitting and listening to him, Mary had made a good choice.

The frustration of the maid pictured by Velázquez is similar to that of Martha. She is trying to make preparations for a meal but is working by herself and is distraught about all that needs to be done. The woman behind her is calling the maid’s attention to the scene of Jesus, Martha, and Mary; pointing out that spiritual nourishment is an important part of life as well.

It has been suggested this kitchen scene is not set in seventeenth century Spain but rather is in the home of Martha and Mary when Christ was there. If this interpretation of the painting is accepted, the person believed to be an upset maid in the kitchen is actually Martha herself and the second woman with Jesus in the smaller scene is another guest.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

The Peretola Tabernacle | Art for B Proper 11

2 Samuel 7:4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.

The Peretola Tabernacle
Luca della Robbia
(b. 1399/1400, Firenze, d. 1482, Firenze)
The Peretola Tabernacle
1441-43
Marble, bronze and glazed terracotta, 260 x 122 cm
Santa Maria, Peretola

Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian
(Previous post July 22, 2012)

During his lifetime, Luca della Robbia was said to be among the finest artists of the early Renaissance. Critics continue to hold him in high regard but they are mixed in their appraisal. It is believed he could have grown much more as a sculptor if he had worked only in stone or bronze. Yet his relief work in terra cotta was of such remarkable quality that his name and fame has been linked with it forever. In his “Tabernacle,” della Robbia includes terra cotta alongside marble and bronze, and the figures are surrounded by an architectural frame that is carved in relief and is part of the sculpture itself. The subject of each section is part of the overall trinity theme.

The uppermost section is a pediment in marble with a figure of God the Father being represented as an old man with a long beard. He is giving a blessing with his right hand while his left hand is holding a tablet with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet; a reference to a statement in the Book of Revelation (22:13), “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”

The central section of the tabernacle is a lamentation in a lunette made of terra cotta. The figures include an angel with an anguished expression holding up the figure of the crucified Christ. His grieving mother, Mary, is on the left side and St. John with his head bowed is on the right. At the time this sculpture was commissioned, della Robbia had been experimenting with clay and glazes and this tabernacle is the first piece in which he used glazed terra cotta. Even after being fired, terra cotta is not as dense as marble; the white glaze that della Robbia formulated and used extensively added hardness to its the surface. He often used blue glaze as a background for the white figures.

The lower section of the sculpture is carved in marble and contains two bronze elements within it. The dove, representing the Holy Spirit, was cast in bronze by della Robbia himself. It is surrounded by a laurel wreath that is being held at the top and bottom by an angel on each side. Under the arms of the two angels is a bronze door to the locked tabernacle where the consecrated wine is kept. From a compositional standpoint, the bronze door at this location seems out of place and it is speculated a white door was there originally; this would have allowed the dove to be a central focal point as seems to have been the intent. The door was changed to its present form in the eighteenth century. The relief on the bronze door depicts a standing Christ holding a cross in his left arm. On the floor is a large chalice to receive blood being shed from his right hand.

Note

Terra cotta (Italian for “cooked earth”): This is red clay that is hardened by firing in a kiln. It is also used for bricks, pavers, and flower pots.

Relief Sculpture: This is the term for sculpture that is not “in the round.” It is raised from a surface (like a relief map) and usually attached to a wall. Three types of relief are: Bas relief (low): Sculpture that is raised from a surface but not very much. [Bas is pronounced “bah.”] Metzo relief (middle): Sculpture that is raised from a surface but not high. Alto relief (high): Sculpture that is elevated from the surface and, at times, almost in the round. [In music the terms bas(s), metzo and alto are used also. Since “alto” means high it may seem odd that in music it refers to the low female voice. This comes from a time when choirs were all male; “alto” was the high male voice. When women began singing in choirs, the ones with lower voices sang the “alto” part.]

Pediment: This is a gable formed when two roofs meet. In Greek and Roman temples, this triangular area was filled with relief sculpture.

Lunette: In architecture, a semicircular opening or surface as under an arch.

Lamentation: This is an expanded version of a pieta (Italian for “pity”). In a pieta, only the crucified Christ and his mother Mary are depicted; in a “lamentation,” additional figures are included.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

Jacob’s Dream (Track 1) & Sowers (Track 2)| Art for A Proper 11

RCL Track 1
Genesis 28:12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Jacob's Dream
RIBERA, Jusepe de
(b. 1591, Játiva, d. 1652, Napoli)
Jacob’s Dream
1639
Oil on canvas, 179 x 233 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
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Click for artist bio.

RCL Track 2
Matthew 13:24
Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field…

The Sower
The Sower
Outskirts of Arles in the Background
Oil on canvas
33.6 x 40.4 cm.
Arles: September, 1888
F 575a, JH 1596
Los Angeles: The Armand Hammer Museum of Art
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Click for all Van Gogh Sowers from Proper 10

 

The Tabernacle of Peretola, 1442, Marble, Glazed Terra cotta, and Bronze, Luca della Robbia (1400-1482)

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Related post B Proper 11, Art for July 22, 2012

During his lifetime, Luca della Robbia was said to be among the finest artists of the early Renaissance. Critics continue to hold him in high regard but they are mixed in their appraisal. It is believed he could have grown much more as a sculptor if he had worked only in stone or bronze. Yet his relief work in terra cotta was of such remarkable quality that his name and fame has been linked with it forever. In his “Tabernacle,” della Robbia includes terra cotta alongside marble and bronze, and the figures are surrounded by an architectural frame that is carved in relief and is part of the sculpture itself. The subject of each section is part of the overall trinity theme.

The uppermost section is a pediment in marble with a figure of God the Father being represented as an old man with a long beard. He is giving a blessing with his right hand while his left hand is holding a tablet with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet; a reference to a statement in the Book of Revelation (22:13), “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”

The central section of the tabernacle is a lamentation in a lunette made of terra cotta. The figures include an angel with an anguished expression holding up the figure of the crucified Christ. His grieving mother, Mary, is on the left side and St. John with his head bowed is on the right. At the time this sculpture was commissioned, della Robbia had been experimenting with clay and glazes and this tabernacle is the first piece in which he used glazed terra cotta. Even after being fired, terra cotta is not as dense as marble; the white glaze that della Robbia formulated and used extensively added hardness to its the surface. He often used blue glaze as a background for the white figures.

The lower section of the sculpture is carved in marble and contains two bronze elements within it. The dove, representing the Holy Spirit, was cast in bronze by della Robbia himself. It is surrounded by a laurel wreath that is being held at the top and bottom by an angel on each side. Under the arms of the two angels is a bronze door to the locked tabernacle where the consecrated wine is kept. From a compositional standpoint, the bronze door at this location seems out of place and it is speculated a white door was there originally; this would have allowed the dove to be a central focal point as seems to have been the intent. The door was changed to its present form in the eighteenth century. The relief on the bronze door depicts a standing Christ holding a cross in his left arm. On the floor is a large chalice to receive blood being shed from his right hand.

Note

Terra cotta (Italian for “cooked earth”): This is red clay that is hardened by firing in a kiln. It is also used for bricks, pavers, and flower pots.

Relief Sculpture: This is the term for sculpture that is not “in the round.” It is raised from a surface (like a relief map) and usually attached to a wall. Three types of relief are: Bas relief (low): Sculpture that is raised from a surface but not very much. [Bas is pronounced “bah.”] Metzo relief (middle): Sculpture that is raised from a surface but not high. Alto relief (high): Sculpture that is elevated from the surface and, at times, almost in the round. [In music the terms bas(s), metzo and alto are used also. Since “alto” means high it may seem odd that in music it refers to the low female voice. This comes from a time when choirs were all male; “alto” was the high male voice. When women began singing in choirs, the ones with lower voices sang the “alto” part.]

Pediment: This is a gable formed when two roofs meet. In Greek and Roman temples, this triangular area was filled with relief sculpture.

Lunette: In architecture, a semicircular opening or surface as under an arch.

Lamentation: This is an expanded version of a pieta (Italian for “pity”). In a pieta, only the crucified Christ and his mother Mary are depicted; in a “lamentation,” additional figures are included.

______________

© 2012 Hovak Najarian