Diego Velázquez (Seville 1599 - Madrid 1660), Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, 1618, oil on canvas, 60 x 103.5 cm, London, National Gallery.
Month of May.
New Testament women: Martha, Mary’s sister.
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me." The Lord said to her in reply, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her." (Lc 10, 38-42)
The first thing that strikes us is that Velázquez executed the description of the Gospel episode in the background. The whole painting is set in an interior, but the scene of Jesus' encounter with Martha and Mary is placed in a further interior room, which we see through a window. Jesus is seated and the two sisters are represented in the pose traditionally attributed to them: Mary at the feet of Jesus, attentive to each of his words, while Martha is standing behind her sister and seems seem to turn to Jesus gesturing with her hands.
If we look carefully at the evangelical scene in the background, we realize that it is painted in a completely bare room, just a chair, a table, a jug. And this simplicity seems to contrast with the richness of details that we see on the table in the foreground: there are fish, two eggs, garlic and a shriveled pepper, as well as a mortar and a jug. The contrast between the scene in the foreground and the one in the background is also accentuated by the almost cumbersome presence of the two women on the left. The young servant who, in working clothes, is pounding something in the mortar and the older woman who, dressed much more elegantly, is giving her directions on what to prepare.
It seems obvious to me the "play" that the painter wanted to submit to our attention. If we interpret in the woman in the foreground on the left the figure of Martha - the color of the dress and the veil seem to recall the figure in the background, in the room where Jesus is - the two scenes of the painting lead us to the busiest of the sisters who have welcomed Jesus. And the fact that Velázquez decided to dress her up with clothes from his period (and therefore also to us, observing today the painting) seems to almost mean that we are all a bit like Marta, too busy to choose "the good part" as Maria did. Moreover, as the Gospel tells us, it is Martha herself who hosts Him. Of course, Martha probably did not reach perfection, but she knew how to open the doors to the Lord and make sure that salvation entered her house.
Thoughts of Marta:
Jesus, the Nazarene, is coming to our house. It is indeed a great privilege to be able to open the door and sit down with Him.
What a joy to be able to host our Master! What a joy to be able to serve Him!
Why doesn’t Mary help me? Doesn’t she realize that I need her to serve Jesus worthily?
Maria, do you know how much better it would be for all, if you helped me? We will have time then to listen to Jesus...
Lord, I know that you are the "good part" that gives light and joy to my life. Precisely because of that I desire to serve you with all of myself.
(Contribution by vito Pongolini)