Internet Shakespeare Editions


Of women and kitchens

Martha in the Kitchen. Artist Unknown. Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

Princes, noblemen, judges, warriors, clergymen: books of the period are full of their interests and exploits. But information about many women's activities are difficult to find: they were not important enough to write about, or to paint.

The illustration here is of a Biblical subject, the relationship between Martha, the homely woman who kept the house running, and Mary of Magdala* whose impulsive act in anointing Jesus with ointment receives much attention from the Gospels*. This painting is unusual in putting Martha in the foreground.

The lowly status of women had deep religious roots.


  1. A woman worth painting

    Mary was the subject of many paintings in the Renaissance; click to see a sympathetic portrait by Van der Weyden of The Magdalen Reading.

  2. The story

    On the trip to Bethesda, Jesus stayed with Mary and Martha; Mary anointed Jesus with expensive perfume, to the annoyance of some of the disciples, and listened to His teachings. Martha cooked, and protested that Mary should help; Jesus rebuked her, saying that the meal could be simple and that Mary's action was good.

    The full painting shows the sympathy the painter has for Martha, as the table is spread with food, and she receives admiring attention from the two men; Mary kneels at the feet of Jesus in the background.

    See Matthew 24:8-25, Luke 10:40, and John 12:1-10.