Johannes Vermeer 1632 – 1675

The Allegory of Faith

oil on canvas (114 × 89 cm) — c. 1670-1672 Museum Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Johannes Vermeer biography

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Tags: Allegory

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This is one Vermeer's last works. It shows a woman undergoing an intense religious moment.

The work is full of symbolism. Vermeer probably used the book Iconoligia by the Italian author Cesare Ripa. The woman symbolizes faith. The white in her dress stands for purity, the blue for the heavenly sky. The hand on her chest indicates that faith lives in the heart. She literally has the world under her feet.

She seems to be looking at the glass sphere hung from the ceiling. There is no certainty about the meaning of the sphere. Some say it may depict the human mind, capable of reflection and of containing infinity.

In the foreground lies a snake crushed by a large stone. The scene symbolizes Christ destroying Satan. Next to it is an apple, the symbol of the original sin.

The woman is seated on a platform. Next to her is a table with a crucifix, a goblet and a book (bible or missal). The painting in the background is a Crucifixion by Jacob Jordaens.

The room may very well be a hidden church. In the second half of the 17th century Catholics in the Northern Netherlands were increasingly being persecuted. They had to take refuge to hidden churches to celebrate mass.

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