National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Woman Holding a Balance Johannes Vermeer (artist)
Dutch, 1632 - 1675
Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664
oil on canvas
painted surface: 39.7 x 35.5 cm (15 5/8 x 14 in.) stretcher size: 42.5 x 38 cm (16 3/4 x 14 15/16 in.) framed: 62.9 x 58.4 x 7.6 cm (24 3/4 x 23 x 3 in.)
Widener Collection
1942.9.97
Not on View
From the Tour: Johannes Vermeer and Dutch Scenes of Daily Life in the 1600s
Object 7 of 8

Caught in a moment of reverie, a young woman steadies her scales before weighing her gold and pearls. A framed painting of the Last Judgment silhouettes her serene figure. Just as Christ weighs souls, so the woman tests a balance and is held in balance herself. God's divine light shines through the window directly on her peaceful face, and the mirror on the wall in front of her reflects a search for self-knowledge.

The subtle meaning is reinforced by Vermeer’s exquisite refinement of composition and lighting. For example, the hand holding the balance occupies a position directly in front of the picture frame’s dark corner. By contrast, the scales are seen clearly against the bare plaster wall—an effect created by manipulating reality. Note that the bottom of the Last Judgment’s frame is slightly higher to the left of the woman than it is behind her back.

The apparent simplicity of the muted color scheme is deceptive, too. Multiple layers of translucent paint are brushed together softly and, then, touched with tiny points of opaque highlights along the jewels, balance pans, fur robe, and satin scarf.

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