Vermeer: This is religious art. He paints people at worship

I’ve been to see some Vermeer. On my recent art tour in the Netherlands I could have taken time to look at paintings of biblical scenes or images of Mary or saints, but they tend to leave me cold. To me the work of Vermeer is religious painting at its finest.

We know Vermeer was a believer, and his faith can be seen in his paintings. Vermeer paints people at worship. I looked at these images and I too worshipped Jesus. Days later I was still provoked to worship by those things I had seen.

It seems to me that there are two mains models of church practice today, in some places the believers are gathered together to do something, an event of worship that they present to God then they leave. For this first model the believer doesn’t need to understand their faith, nor does it need to make a difference in their world. The other model is that the believers get together in the context of worship and teaching to encourage each other and be re-equipped to go out into their world and make a difference. This is what it is to live out the exhortation of Paul in his letter to the Romans chapter 12 verse 1.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.”

It is this second model I see in the works of Vermeer.

See his famous painting The Milkmaid (or Kitchen Maid). I wonder what he was trying to portray. Would he have the Romans quote in mind? It certainly came to my mind as I gazed upon this work.

The Milkmaid


Is the milkmaid supposed to be a follower of Jesus? I assume she is, as this was painted by a follower and at a time of great faith in the land. See the care she takes with the milk so that not one drop is wasted. This is Romans 12:1 in action. Every small or mundane task I do I can do the best I can as an act of worship.

Feel the tranquillity of the scene.

The milkmaid looks content. Her clothing is not the finest, nor is it in bad shape. What conclusions do we draw from that? Does it speak of the Christian’s attempt to find contentment despite circumstances? See Philippians 4:12:

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Some artists insert people into their pictures, often indistinct and sometimes a mere suggestion of a human being. In Vermeer’s pictures the people are often the subject. In the picture of Street in Delf we see an old house where the cracks in the rendering between the bricks has been filled in. We can see the wear of years. This building is the context for human life with all its labours and its hopes and dreams, the people who will be born there, live there, and be replaced the generations to follow.

Little Street in Delf


In View of Delf the people in the left foreground are real people living real lives. The view was of a great city, a great creation of the state, at a time of great prosperity in the their Golden Age. The people are not the context for the city but it is the city which is the context for God’s crowning creation – human beings.

View of Delft


I could go on, such as Vermeer’s high view of women and the honour he gives them in his portrayal of their ordinary days (Romans 12 again?).

The Lacemaker

I didn’t see The Lacemaker as that is in Paris.

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