Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, 1618 | Velazquez | Painting Reproduction
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, 1618 | Velazquez | Painting Reproduction

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, 1618
Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velazquez (1599-1660)

Location: National Gallery London United Kingdom
Original Size: 60 x 103.5 cm
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Oil Painting Reproduction

SKU: VDZ-1027
Painting Size: $950.00
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Kitchen Scene in the House of Martha and Mary dates from Velazquez's Seville period, painted shortly after he completed his apprenticeship with Pacheco. At this time, Velazquez was experimenting with the potential of the bodegone, a form of painting which was frequently used to relate scenes of contemporary Spain to themes and stories from the Bible. Often they contained depictions of people working with food and drink.
In this case, Velazquez has painted the interior of a kitchen with two half-length women to the left. On the table are a number of foods, perhaps the ingredients of an Alioli (a garlic mayonnaise made to accompany fish). These have been prepared by the maid. Extremely realistic, they were probably painted from the artist's own household as they appear in other bodegones from the same time.
In the background is a biblical scene, generally accepted to be the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10). In it, Christ goes to the house of a woman named Martha. Her sister, Mary, sat at his feet and listened to him speak. Martha, on the other hand, went to "make all the preparations that had to be made". Upset that Mary did not help her, she complained to Christ to which he responded: "Martha, Martha, ... you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." In the painting, Christ is shown as a bearded man in a blue tunic. He gesticulates at Martha, the woman standing behind Mary, rebuking her for her frustration.
The plight of Martha clearly relates to that of the maid in the foreground. She has just prepared a large amount of food and, from the redness of her creased puffy cheeks, we can see that she is also upset. To comfort her (or perhaps even to rebuke her), the elderly woman indicates the scene in the background reminding her that she can not expect to gain fulfillment from work alone. The maid, who cannot bring herself to look directly at the biblical scene and instead looks out of the painting towards us, meditates on the implications of the story.
This is probably the most likely interpretation of the painting. However scholars have given other readings of it. Some have argued over the identities of the characters, suggesting that the maid in the foreground is actually Martha herself and the lady standing in the background is just an incidental character.
Another point of contention is over the representation of the background. On one hand, we may be looking at a mirror or through a hatch at the biblical scene. If so, it would imply that the whole painting, foreground and background, is set in Christ's time and would perhaps lend weight to the argument that the maid in the foreground is Martha. On the other hand, the biblical scene may just be a painting which is hung in the maid's kitchen. Given that the bodegones usually represent images of contemporary Spain, many have thought that this is probably the most likely explanation. However, the National Gallery say that following cleaning and restoration in 1964, it is now clear that the smaller scene is framed by a hatch or aperture through the wall. The suggestion of other possibilities, especially that of the scene as a painting, may remain as an element in the meaning of the work.
Whatever the truth of this is, we can appreciate this as an early example of Velazquez's interest in layered composition, a form also known as "paintings within the painting". He continually exploited this form throughout his career. Other examples of this are Kitchen Scene with the Supper in Emmaus (1618), Las Hilanderas (1657) and his masterpiece Las Meninas (1656).
There is a second version of the painting, with significant differences, in an American collection.
This work may demonstrate the influence of Flemish art. A painting which also shows a contemporary kitchen scene (albeit presented in a completely different way) with Christ, Martha and Mary in the background is The Four Elements: Fire, painted by Beuckelaer in 1570. It is possible that Velazquez had access to an engraving of this work.

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