Vermeer, born in a protestant family, likely converted to the Roman Catholic religion when marrying Catherina Bolnes, daughter of the wealthy Maria Thins, who was from a Roman catholic background. Thus in a strict sense their family became a Catholic one and not an interfaith one. The question is what the normal procedure was for conversion and whether Vermeer did get enough time. In naming their children a distinct Roman catholic flavour is clearly visible and one painting, the Allegory of Faith (Metropolitan, NYC) Vermeer's "only artistic mistake", was painted for a Roman Catholic patron. Apart from this one there is no Roman catholic flavour at all...
Mixed marriages were a constant subject of discussion and worry for the civil and religious authorities in the seventeenth century Dutch Republic. In the Republic the Dutch Reformed Church had a preferred status, and the Roman Catholic church was tolerated if it kept out of the public eye, maintaining quiet low profile gatherings held in hidden churches and paying the town authorities some good annual cash. Protestant clergy knew that they would alienate people if rules in interfaith marriages were enforced too strictly. They balanced their situation, calculated their theoretical loss and gain and ended up with a fair amount of toleration.
In the Vermeer house there was a crucifix and a painting of Mary, household objects belonging to the catholic sphere.
Dr. Ben Kaplan studied interfaith marriages in seventeenth century Dutch Republic as an index or symptom or cause of toleration. he found that percentages remained as low as 1 to 4 %. Higher figures, up to 10 to 15% were scored in garrison towns near the southern Dutch border with Flanders which was under Spanish control.
In interfaith marriages it was sometimes mutually agreed that sons born in the marriage would follow the faith of the father, and daughters that of the mother. In fact this arrangement would nicely freeze the demographic pattern.
Obstacles to mixed marriages sometimes led to feigned conversions "pro matrimonio". A very strict las countering mixed marriages was put into effect as late as 1755, being repelled some dedes later in the French occupation.
Ben Kaplan, author of Calvinist Libertinists, 1995 gave a lecture in Amsterdam, 2003, presenting his current reasearch on interfaith marriages.
Donald Haks, Huwelijk en gezin in Holland in de 17de en 18de eeuw. Van Gorcum Historische Bibliotheek, nr 98, Assen, 1982.
Ben Kaplan, Calvinist Libertinists, London(?) 1995.
This page forms part of a large encyclopedic site on Delft. Research by Drs. Kees Kaldenbach (email). A full presentation is on view at johannesvermeer.info.
Launched December, 2002; Last update March 1, 2017.
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