Vermeer and life’s ultimate test

Undated handout photo of the Rev David Clarke, elected Wednesday February 8th 2006 as the new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev Clarke, who has been minister of Terrace Row Church in Coleraine, Co Londonderry for over 20 years, is the son of a butcher, and his brother played professional football for Sunderland. See PA story ULSTER Church. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo credit should read: PA
Undated handout photo of the Rev David Clarke, elected Wednesday February 8th 2006 as the new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev Clarke, who has been minister of Terrace Row Church in Coleraine, Co Londonderry for over 20 years, is the son of a butcher, and his brother played professional football for Sunderland. See PA story ULSTER Church. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo credit should read: PA

Art lovers have been flocking to Dublin’s National Gallery for the latest exhibition.

Entitled ‘Vermeer and the masters of genre painting’, the exhibition brings together ten works by the celebrated 17th Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, as well as works by his contemporaries. Ten paintings may seem insignificant, but then only about 30 works are confirmed as from his hand.

Paintings have been assembled from London’s National Gallery, the Louvre in Paris, as well as the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

Grouped by subject matter, such as ‘a woman writing a letter’, or ‘ a woman making lace’, the exhibition enables the viewer to compare and contrast the styles of Vermeer and his contemporaries such as Gerrit Dou and Gerard ter Borch. The last group of paintings places Pieter de Hooch’s painting of ‘Woman weighing coins’ beside Vermeer’s ‘Woman with a balance.’ While there are similarities, there is also a remarkable difference. The wall behind the subject in de Hooch’s painting is plain, while on the wall in Vermeer’s canvas is a painting of the Final Judgment. It is as though Vermeer is reminding the viewer that there is a more important weighing which will take place when life is done. On that day, some, like Belshazzar, will be ’weighed in the balances and found wanting’(Daniel 5; 27).

It is a truism that while Victorian society refused to speak about sex, our society refuses to speak about death. The outpouring of grief at the death of Princess Diana 20 years ago may be partly explained by the fact that we had suddenly been brought into stark confrontation with something we preferred not to consider.

Yet the wise individual must address the issue. The great writer Samuel Johnson was noted for his wit, his learning and his piety. Prayers he wrote are in every anthology, containing petitions such as ’Enlighten our understandings with knowledge of right, and govern our wills by Thy laws, that no deceit may mislead us, no temptation corrupt us; that we may always endeavour to do good and hinder evil.’

Yet when Johnson was dying and anxious, a friend consoled him saying, ’You forget the merits of our Redeemer.’ ‘No, replied Johnson, ‘I do not forget the merits of our Redeemer, but my Redeemer has said he will place some on his right hand and others on his left’ - a warning which only the empty-headed and empty-hearted will ignore.