Saturday, August 22, 2009

Martha and Mary

Title: Martha and Mary

Artist: Maurice Denis

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 77 x 116 cm

Date: 1896

Location: State Museum of New Western Art, Moscow.

A story recorded in Luke 10:38-42 “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ The Lord answered, ‘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.’”

The work of Maurice Denis in the 1890s is marked by the sincerity of a special gentle lyricism that is unique, and by a calm gracefulness of manner. The 1896 composition Martha and Mary is evidence of the artist's undiminishing interest in religious subjects and symbolism, and of the influence that the art of the Early Renaissance had on his work. As Martha and Mary were sisters, in the painting they share the same features and are juxtaposed, as it were, like the principles of dark and light, like two aspects of a single being. Many of the details in the painting can also be interpreted from a Symbolist point of view: the house was understood as the repository of wisdom, the enclosed garden embodied the feminine principle, and the well is the source of pure faith. Martha carries a dish of fruit on which grapes symbolize Christ, the apple Original Sin. The golden vessel on the table is a symbol of the Christian faith and redemption.

Maurice Denis (November 25, 1870 – November 1943) was a French painter and writer, born in Granville, a coastal town in the Normandy region of France. Waters and coastlines would remain favorite subject matter throughout his career, as would material drawn from the bible. For such an avant-garde figure, he was a member of the Symbolist and Les Nabis movements, and his theories contributed to the foundations of cubism and abstract art, Denis had a surprisingly broad religious streak.

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