Diego Velázquez, Spanish, 1599-1660
Title: Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus
Date: c.1617-1618
Medium: Oil on canvas
55 x 118 cm
Credit Line: Presented, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987 (Beit Collection)
Object Number: NGI.4538
DescriptionIn the foreground of this composition, a servant woman is depicted at work in a kitchen. She appears distracted, and has been captured in a moment of pause while she listens. The source of her attention is revealed through a small kitchen window: a haloed Christ and his followers, seated at a table. This secondary scene within Velázquez’s composition illustrates the supper at Emmaus, an event described in the Gospel of Luke during which the resurrected and unrecognisable Christ presents himself to two of his disbelieving apostles. The inversion of religious and domestic subjects, in which an important biblical narrative is relegated to a hatch in the background, recalls Flemish paintings of the sixteenth century. Velázquez takes advantage of this format to demonstrate his skill in describing everyday objects, like the ceramic jug, copper bowl and wicker basket on the counter. Particularly impressive is the realistic foreshortening of the dishes, painted using of a limited palette of browns, ochres and whites. The pose and lighting of the figure of the servant imbues her with a sense of monumentality.

As a rare depiction of an African servant in seventeenth-century Spain, it has been suggested that this painting once belonged to Archbishop Pedro de Castro y Quiñones, who, around the time the work was painted, published instructions promoting the baptism of Africans in Seville. The archbishop was of the belief that salvation should be available to all, irrespective of social status or ethnicity. The work has thus been interpreted as a representation of the salvation of the poor; the maid is experiencing a spiritual awakening as she bears witness to the miracle that is taking place in the neighbouring room.
ProvenanceExported from Spain to England at some unknown date; according to the label on the reverse, in the collection of the Revd Swiney; allegedly in possession of Sir Hugh Lane, c. 1909; in the collection of Sir Otto Beit, Belgrave Square, London, by 1913; by descent to his son, Sir Alfred Beit, Bt., 1930; presented by Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987 (Beit Collection)
Exhibition HistorySpanish Old Masters, Grafton Galleries, London, 1913-1914

Exhibition of Spanish Paintings, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1920-1921

An Exhibition of Spanish Paintings, The Arts Council, National Gallery, London, 1947

Old Master Paintings from the Beit Collection, National Gallery of South Africa, Cape town, 1949-1950

L'Age d'or espagnol, La Peinture en Espagne et en France autour du caravagisme, Bordeaux, 1955

Il Seicento Europeo, Palazzo del Espozizione, Rome, 1956-1957

Exhibition of Paintings from Irish Collections, Municipal Gallery of Art, Dublin, 1957

Velázquez y lo Velazqueno, Cason del Nuen Retiro, Madrid, 1960-1961

Acquisitions 1986-1988, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 1988

Velázquez, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1990

Diego Velazquez, Grand Palais, Paris, April - July 2015

Master European Paintings from the National Gallery of Ireland, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 6 June - 9 August 1992; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, 19 September - 6 December 1992; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 13 January - 28 March 1993; IBM Gallery, New York, 27 April - 26 June 1993

European Masterpieces from the National Museum of Ireland, National Gallery, Canberra, 25 June 1994 - 3 October 1994; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Adelaide, 21 October 1994 - 15 January 1995

Velazquez in Seville, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 8 August - 20 October 1996

Velazquez y Sevilla, Monasterio de la Cartuja de Sta. Ma de las Cuevas, Centro Audaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Sevilla, 1 October 1999 - 12 December 1999

Velazquez, National Gallery, London, 18 October 2006 - 21 January 2007

Fabulás de Velazquez: Mitología e Historia Sagrada en el Siglo de Oro, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 19 November 2007 - 24 February 2008

Lines of Vision. Irish Writers at the National Gallery of Ireland, 8 October 2014 —12 April 2015

Spain: Art and Empire in the Golden Age, The San Diego Museum of Art, USA, 18 May 2019 - 02 September 2019
Label TextRegarded as the greatest Spanish artist of his time, Velázquez began his career in Seville and later became the leading artist at the court of King Philip IV in Madrid. This is considered to be the artist’s earliest known work. Close to the viewer, a Moorish maid pauses from her tasks to listen, arrested for a moment by something she overhears. Through a window, we see the source of her curiosity: the resurrected and unrecognisable Christ revealing himself to two of his apostles. Meticulously-painted everyday objects in the foreground showcase the artist’s virtuoso skill in still-life painting.