5. The glass sphere in The Allegory of Religion (1670-74)
Vermeer’s spiritual religion is expressed most forcefully in his late allegorical portray The Allegory of Religion. The primary character is a personification of Catholicism, and her look and gestures are taken as soon as once more from Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia, this time from a determine denoting of “Religion”.
However the glass orb above her head shouldn’t be in Ripa’s ebook, and it took students a long time to work out what it meant. In 1975, the artwork historian Eddy de Jongh found the symbol – represented precisely because it does in Allegory of Religion suspended by a ribbon – in a ebook titled Holy Emblems of Religion, Hope and Charity by the Flemish Jesuit Willem Hesius. It was accompanied by a motto: “It captures what it can’t maintain”.
A brief verse within the ebook explains that the orb is just like the human thoughts. In its panoramic reflections, “the huge universe will be proven in one thing small” – and likewise “if it believes in God, nothing will be bigger than that thoughts”. The orb symbolises the thoughts’s interplay with God.
It could be added that each one of Vermeer’s work are additionally just like the orb, capturing passing occasions and concepts on their flat surfaces and sealing them for posterity. For all of the work’ distinctive talent at capturing actuality, Vermeer solely loved very modest success whereas he was alive. He created about two work a yr, and the small sum of money he may earn from it meant that he could not make a residing by portray alone.
Maybe his artwork appeals much more to us within the frenetic twenty first Century as a result of it provides a novel sense of calm. In Vermeer’s scenes, time seems to freeze within the crystalline daylight and silence descends like a useless weight. However a vivacious world of symbols pulses beneath the floor: perennially related concepts about artwork, want, materialism and spirituality, captured by Vermeer and mendacity in wait of discovery.
Vermeer is on the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam till 4 June 2023.
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