This essay offers a new reading of Diego Velázquez’s Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1618) by relating it to religious discourse in the artist’s native Seville. Through an analysis of previously unstudied Sevillian writings, this article argues that the painting’s compositional structure entreats the beholder to use the corporeal register of the foreground as a means of entry into the spiritual register of the background scene. A consideration of contemporary discussions concerning the interrelation between the art of memory and devotion elucidates the function of Velázquez’s picture-within-apicture as a mnemonic device that reminds the viewer to heed his or her duties to Christ, even amid life’s toils. Establishing the nexus between text and image, these writings are treated not simply as sources for Velázquez’s work, but as tools for reconstructing the religious milieu to which the artist contributed.
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