Why this Vermeer Painting is One of His Richest and Most Accomplished

Hidden metaphors and deep feelings

Christopher P Jones
7 min readFeb 3, 2024

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The Allegory of Faith (c.1670–72) by Johannes Vermeer. Oil on canvas. 114.3 × 88.9 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, U.S. Image source Wikimedia Commons

Renowned for his meticulous attention to detail, Johannes Vermeer is an artist celebrated for the precise arrangement of elements in his images.

The Allegory of Faith is no exception.

Look first at the tapestry that hangs like a drawn curtain on the left side of the canvas, how it presides over our view into the room like an entrance for us to walk through.

Then set your eyes on the woman at the centre of the image, who is clearly lost in her own private thoughts, clutching at her chest in what seems like a state of expectant rapture.

Finally, look above her head and notice the glass orb — a perfectly transparent sphere — suspended by a blue cord from the rafters of the ceiling.

Detail of ‘The Allegory of Faith’ (c.1670–72) by Johannes Vermeer. Oil on canvas. 114.3 × 88.9 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, U.S. Image source Wikimedia Commons

Among the many mysteries of this superb painting, the glass sphere is probably the most enigmatic. What is it doing, and what does it mean?

With a composition littered with symbols and an overt emphasis on metaphor, this Vermeer painting presents itself as a brilliantly intricate riddle. How do we go about unravelling it?

Layers of Meaning

Detail of ‘The Allegory of Faith’ (c.1670–72) by Johannes Vermeer. Oil on canvas. 114.3 × 88.9 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, U.S. Image source Wikimedia Commons

One way to get the best out of Vermeer’s work is to remember that he was an artist who enjoyed bringing layers of meaning into his paintings, layers that communicate with each other across the canvas.

As an example, notice the cross on the table — upon which the woman’s euphoric gaze lands — and how it is mirrored in the painting on the wall behind.

Here, religious belief and art are presented as close companions, sharing the same space and in dialogue with one another.

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