Vermeer’s Catholic “Allegory”
The Dutch painter Johannes (often Jan) Vermeer (1632-1675) was born in Delft and was baptized in a Dutch Reformed church there. When he was 21, he married Catharina Bolenes, the Catholic daughter of a well-connected Delft woman, who was very much involved in a “hidden” Jesuit church (schuilkerk) next door. (It was illegal then to celebrate Mass in the Netherlands, although the Dutch were then – as now – more tolerant than some other Protestant countries. Back when that was a virtue.)
It’s assumed Vermeer embraced Catholicism before the wedding.
But he was not thereafter merely Catholic-in-marriage-only. The faith mattered greatly to him, and this can be seen clearly in one of the canvases he painted between 1670 and 1672, Allegory of the Catholic Faith (the image above) or, as Protestant sources often refer to it, simply Allegory of Faith.
Thank goodness New York’s Metropolitan Museum, which owns the painting and features it in a new show, “In Praise of Painting” (on display until October 4, 2020), has the integrity to call it by the name the artist intended.