This painting shows Jesus visiting the sisters Martha and Mary. The scriptures say that Martha “was cumbered about much serving,” while Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.”1 Martha asks the Lord to bid Mary to come help her serve. “Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part.”2
The two sisters’ poses reflect their attitudes in the Biblical story. Martha is busy pouring wine, surrounded by jugs and work to be done, her body angled away from Jesus and toward her work. While Jesus’ and Martha’s faces are in profile, Rane has shown the viewer the full view of Mary’s face. She clasps her hands under her chin and looks sunk in deep thought.
The single light illuminating the scene burns directly under Christ’s face, reminding the viewer that He is the source of all light and truth. Christ’s profile and arm bracket Mary’s thoughtful face and the golden space of illumination in the center of the painting; it is outside that reflective rectangle that the broom, the dishes, the baskets, and other instruments of domestic work lie.
Further reading: “Choosing Charity: That Good Part”