The following is an excerpt from the “Looking at a Masterpiece” series from Lay Witness magazine. In the May/June 2012 issue, columnist and former CUF President Madeleine Stebbins discusses the everyday holiness embodied in Johannes Vemeer’s The Little Street. For more information on subscribing to Lay Witness, visit our website.
This painting circa 1657 by one of the great masters of the Golden Age of Dutch painting, Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), hangs in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. At first superficial glance it may seem quite ordinary and commonplace, merely a somewhat haphazard scene of a little street in Delft. But soon one detects a secret beauty in it.
Vermeer has a special gift for giving us a glimpse of beauty in a fleeting moment of everyday life, thus almost imperceptibly linking time to eternity.
Obviously I have been focusing in these columns on sacred art, since through that powerful medium we discover more fully the unimaginable depth and richness of our religion. Still true beauty is always a witness mirrowing a fragment of the divine.
This painting, though not explicitly religious, is nevertheless embedded in God’s world. It exudes peace and serenity. It makes us aware that peace comes from humility. Not exalted, this art is unpretentious, as well as very original.
Rather than mere time-bound, old-fashioned charm, this painting discloses something deeper and more timeless. Women can create an atmosphere of love and harmony. Their influence on society is incalculable. Doing these humble tasks links them to a whole world–hinted at in this painting–of silent contemplation that is almost monastic.
In the very act of working they are glorifying God and bringing charity to their families. Thus the lowly becomes a springboard for the heavenly. Prose turns into poetry.
St. Josemaria Escriva said that in doing our work to the best of our ability we can actually meet our loving Father, and so can attain holiness. In a homily he added: “There is something holy, something divine, hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.”