VERMEER, Johannes
(b. 1632, Delft, d. 1675, Delft)

The Allegory of the Catholic Faith

Oil on canvas, 114 x 89 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Signature: Not signed.

Provenance: Sale Herman van Swoll, Amsterdam,1699. Sale Amsterdam, 1718. Sale Amsterdam, 1735. Sale Amsterdam, 1749. Private collection, Austria, 1824. Collection D. Stchoukine, Moscow. Art gallery Wachtler, Berlin, as by Eglon van der Neer, with a false signature of C. Netscher. Bought from this gallery by A. Bredius. On loan to the Mauritshuis, The Hague (1899-1923). On loan to Boymans Museum, Rotterdam (1923-28). Art gallery F. Kleinberger, Paris. Collection Colonel M. Friedsam, New York. Bequeathed by the latter to the museum in 1931.

An unusually large canvas for Vermeer, this is one of the two known paintings of his that have explicitly allegorical content. Vermeer had converted to Catholicism at the time of his marriage, and this work may have been commissioned by a Catholic institution.

The subject matter for this allegory obviously did not suit Vermeer's taste. In the Art of Painting (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), he produced, in spite of the intrusion of iconographic material, a composition that conveyed a psychological approach joined to artistic execution. Even so, it was not really as successful as other works that imply thoughtfulness or meditation.

The Allegory of Faith is fraught with details that evidently were prescribed by the spiritual fathers (probably the Jesuits, although the first known owner of the painting was a Protestant) of the composition, but that did not fit into an artistic image with which Vermeer could cope.

Hence, we have here an exercise in classicism, of abstract concepts, which led to a mediocre result. The artist's creativity had, in any case, declined by then into a brittle style with no more inner warmth or ability to communicate.

Thus, we are in the presence of a rather dry amalgamate, drawn in the main from Cesare Ripa's book Iconologia, to which a large Crucifixion by Jacob Jordaens on the back wall is added as a backdrop. Hence, this allegorical representation of the "New Testament" can have served as a didactic introduction to some aspects of the Catholic faith.