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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Johannes Vermeer/Woman Holding a Balance/c. 1664,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, http://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/1236 (accessed September 22, 2014).

 

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Overview

Woman Holding a Balance is a superb example of Johannes Vermeer’s exquisite sense of stability and rhythm. A woman dressed in a blue jacket with fur trim stands serenely at a table in a corner of a room. The scales in her right hand are at equilibrium, suggestive of her inner state of mind. A large painting of the Last Judgment, framed in black, hangs on the back wall of the room. A shimmering blue cloth, open boxes, two strands of pearls, and a gold chain lie on the sturdy table. Soft light comes in through the window and illuminates the scene. The woman is so pensive that the viewer almost hesitates to intrude on her quiet moment of contemplation.

The visual juxtaposition of the woman and the Last Judgment is reinforced by thematic parallels: to judge is to weigh. This scene has religious implications that seem related to Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s instructions, in his Spiritual Exercises, that the faithful, prior to meditating, first examine their conscience and weigh their sins as if facing Judgment Day. Only such introspection could lead to virtuous choices along the path of life. Woman Holding a Balance thus allegorically urges us to conduct our lives with temperance and moderation. The woman is poised between the earthly treasures of gold and pearls and a visual reminder of the eternal consequences of her actions.

Vermeer emphasized this message through his superbly refined composition and lighting. The hand holding the balance, for example, occupies a position directly in front of the frame’s dark corner, while the scales are set off against the bare plaster wall—an effect that Vermeer created through subtle spatial manipulation. Note, for instance, that the bottom of the Last Judgment’s frame is slightly higher to the left of the woman than it is behind her back, creating room for the balance.

Entry

The young woman standing before a table in a corner of a room gazes toward the balance she is holding gently in her right hand. As though waiting for the delicate modulations of the balance to come to rest, she stands transfixed in a moment of equilibrium. She is dressed in a blue morning jacket bordered with white fur; seen through the parting of her jacket are vivid stripes of yellow and orange, perhaps ribbons or part of her bodice. Her white cap falls loosely to either side of her neck, framing her pensive yet serene face. Diffused sunlight, entering through an open window before her, helps illuminate the scene. The light, warmed by the orange curtain, flows across the gray wall and catches the fingers of the woman’s right hand and the balance before resting on her upper figure.

Behind the woman looms a painting of the Last Judgment,[1] which acts as a compositional and iconographic foil to the scene before it. The Last Judgment, its proportions echoing those of the overall painting, occupies the entire upper right quadrant of the composition. Its rectangular shape establishes a quiet and stable framework against which Vermeer juxtaposes the figure of the woman, whose white cap and blue morning jacket contrast with the dark painting. Her figure is aligned with the central axis of the Last Judgment: her head lies at the middle of its composition, directly beneath the oval mandorla of the Christ in majesty. Her right hand coincides with the lower corner of the frame, which happens also to be the vanishing point of the perspective system. Her head and the central gesture of her hand are thus visually locked in space, and a seeming moment of quiet contemplation becomes endowed with permanence and symbolic associations.

The visual juxtaposition of the woman and the Last Judgment is reinforced by thematic parallels: to judge is to weigh. As Christ sits in majesty on the Day of Judgment, his gesture, with both arms raised, mirrors the opposing direction of the woman’s balance. His judgments are eternal; hers are temporal. Nevertheless, the woman’s pensive response to the balance suggests that her act of judgment, although different in consequence, is as conscientiously considered as that of the Christ behind her. What then is the thematic relationship between her act and the painting on the wall behind her?

This question has been asked time and again, and, indeed, the actual nature of her act and its significance have been variously interpreted. Most earlier interpretations of this painting focused on the act of weighing and were premised upon the assumption that the pans of the woman’s balance contain certain precious objects, generally identified as gold or pearls. Consequently, until recently the painting had been alternately described as the Goldweigher or the Girl Weighing Pearls.[2]

Microscopic examination, however, has revealed that the apparent objects in the scales are painted in a manner quite different from the representation of gold or pearls found elsewhere in this painting [fig. 1]. The highlights in the scale certainly do not represent gold, for they are not painted with lead-tin yellow, as is the gold chain draped over the jewelry casket. The pale, creamy color is more comparable to that found on the pearls, but while the point of light in the center of the left pan of the balance looks initially like a pearl, Vermeer’s technique of rendering pearls is different. As may be seen in the strand of pearls lying on the table and in those draped over the jewelry box, he paints pearls in two layers: a thin, underneath (grayish) layer and a superimposed highlight. This technique permits him to depict their specular highlights and at the same time to suggest their translucent and three-dimensional qualities. In the band of pearls draped over the box, the size of the pearl (the thin, diffused layer) remains relatively constant although the highlights on the pearls (the thick, top layer) vary considerably in size according to the amount of light hitting them. The highlight in the center of the left pan is composed of only one layer—the bright highlight. Lacking the underlayer, the spot is not only smaller but also less softly luminescent compared to the pearls. The more diffused highlight in the center of the right pan is larger, but it is not round and has no specular highlight. These points thus appear to be reflections of light from the window rather than objects unto themselves. Reinforcing the sense that the scales are empty is the fact that the pearls and gold on the boxes and table are bound together and none lie on the table as separate entities as though waiting to be weighed and measured against one another.

Even so, the jewelry boxes, strands of pearls, and gold chain on the table must be considered in any assessment of this painting’s meaning. As riches they belong to, and are valued within, the temporal world. They have been interpreted in the past as temptations of material wealth and the woman as the personification of Vanitas.[3] Pearls, however, have many symbolic meanings, ranging from the purity of the Virgin Mary to the vices of pride and arrogance. As the woman concentrates on the balance in her hand, her attitude is one of inner peace and serenity. The psychological tension that would suggest a conflict between her action and the implications of the Last Judgment does not exist.

Although the allegorical character of Woman Holding a Balance differs from the more genrelike focus of comparable paintings by Vermeer of the early to mid-1660s, the thematic concerns underlying this work are similar: one should lead a life of temperance and balanced judgment. Indeed, this message, with or without its explicit religious context, is found in paintings from all phases of Vermeer’s career and must represent his profound beliefs about the proper conduct of human life. The balance, the emblem of Justice and eventually of the final judgment, would seem to denote the woman’s responsibility to weigh and balance her own actions,[4] a responsibility reinforced by the juxtaposition of her head over the traditional position of Saint Michael in the Last Judgment scene. Correspondingly, the mirror, placed near the light source, and directly opposite the woman’s face, was commonly referred to as a means of self-knowledge.[5] As Otto van Veen (Flemish, 1556 - 1629) wrote in an emblem book Vermeer certainly knew, “a perfect glasse doth represent the face, Iust as it is in deed, not flattring it at all.”[6] In her search for self-knowledge and in her acceptance of the responsibility of maintaining the balance and equilibrium of her life, the woman would seem to be aware, although not in fear, of the final judgment that awaits her. Indeed, in the context of that pensive moment of decision, the mirror also suggests the evocative imagery of 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Vermeer’s painting is thus a positive statement, an expression of the essential tranquility of one who understands the implications of the Last Judgment and who searches to moderate her life in order to warrant her salvation.

The character of the scene conforms closely to Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s recommendations for meditation in his Spiritual Exercises, a devotional service with which Vermeer was undoubtedly familiar through his contacts with the Jesuits. As Cunnar has emphasized, Saint Ignatius urged that, prior to meditating, the practicer first examine his conscience and weigh his sins as though he were standing before God on Judgment Day, and then “weigh” his choices and choose a path of life that will allow him to be judged favorably in a “balanced” manner.[7]

I must rather be like the equalized scales of a balance ready to follow the course which I feel is more for the glory and praise of God, our Lord, and the salvation of my soul.[8]

The many different interpretations of this painting that have appeared over the years, nevertheless, are a reminder of how cautious one must be in proposing a given meaning for this work. In addition to questions concerning the contents of the balance, there has been speculation as to whether the woman is pregnant or whether her costume reflects a style of dress in fashion during the early to mid-1660s, when this painting seems to have been executed.[9] If she is pregnant, does her pregnancy have consequence for the interpretation of the painting?[10] Is she, as some have suggested, a secularized image of the Virgin Mary, who, standing before the Last Judgment, would assume her role as intercessor and compassionate mother?[11] Cunnar has argued, for example, that the image of a pregnant Virgin Mary contemplating balanced scales would have been understood by a Catholic viewer as referring to her anticipation of Christ’s life, his sacrifice, and the eventual foundation of the Church.[12] Such theological associations were made in the seventeenth century and may have played a part in Vermeer’s allegorical concept.[13]

This painting offers one of the most glorious examples of Vermeer’s exquisite sense of balance and rhythm from the early to mid-1660s. The woman, her right hand gently holding the scale, is poised with her small finger extended, which gives a horizontal accent to the gesture. The left arm, gracefully resting on the edge of the table, closes the space around the balance and establishes an echo to the gentle arch of boxes, blue cloth, and sunlight sweeping down from the other side. The scales themselves, perfectly balanced but not symmetrical, are situated against the wall in a small niche of space created especially for them. Although no pentimenti are visible in the X-radiograph [fig. 2] [see X-radiography], an infrared reflectogram reveals that the balance was enlarged and lowered. Vermeer has also taken the liberty of raising the bottom left edge of the picture frame behind the woman to allow sufficient room for the balance. Throughout, his interplay of verticals and horizontals, and of both against diagonals, of mass against void, and of light against dark, creates a subtly balanced but never static composition.

The degree of Vermeer’s sensitivity can best be illustrated by comparing this scene with a close counterpart by Pieter de Hooch (Dutch, 1629 - 1684), A Woman Weighing Gold [fig. 3].[14] Although De Hooch probably painted this scene in the mid-1660s after he left Delft for Amsterdam, it is so similar to Vermeer’s that it is difficult to imagine that they were painted without knowledge of each other or of a common source.[15] Nevertheless, the refinements and mood of the Vermeer are lacking in the De Hooch. The woman in De Hooch’s painting is not gazing serenely at her scales; she is actively engaged in placing a gold coin or weight into one of the pans. By her active gesture she separates herself from the quiet rhythms and geometrical structure of the room.[16]

Woman Holding a Balance has a distinguished provenance that can be traced in a virtually unbroken line back to the seventeenth century. The enthusiastic descriptions of the work in sales catalogues as well as in critics’ assessments attest to its extraordinary appeal to each and every generation. Perhaps the most fascinating early reference to this work comes from the first sale in which it appeared, the Dissius sale in Amsterdam of 1696. It is the first painting listed in that sale, which included twenty-one paintings by Vermeer, and is described in the following terms: “A young lady weighing gold, in a box by J. van der Meer of Delft, extraordinarily artful and vigorously painted.”[17]

The protective box in which Woman Holding a Balance was framed was probably related to the painting’s special thematic character. Much as with the boxes that Gerrit Dou (Dutch, 1613 - 1675) occasionally placed around his paintings, one would be able to see Woman Holding a Balance only after opening two little doors attached to the box in which it was placed.[18] The painting, thus, was not conceived as a work to be viewed every day, as one passed back and forth while occupied with mundane activities. Rather, the decision to contemplate this painting would have been consciously made, reserved for those quiet moments when one yearns for inner peace and is in search of spiritual guidance. Upon encountering this radiant image after opening these doors, the viewer’s eye, located directly opposite the vanishing point, would have been drawn to the symbolic core of the composition. The experience would have been a private one, a timeless moment for both visual and spiritual enrichment as one contemplated the allegorical themes of balance and harmony that underlie this work. That the painting was listed first in the sale and contained in a protective box indicates the extraordinary value placed on this work, an appreciation that has never diminished.[19]

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014

Inscription

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Possibly Pieter Claesz van Ruijven [1624-1674], Delft; possibly by inheritance to his wife, Maria de Knuijt [d. 1681], Delft; possibly by inheritance to her daughter, Magdalena van Ruijven [1655-1682], Delft; possibly by inheritance to her husband, Jacobus Abrahamsz. Dissius [1653-1695], Delft;[1] (his sale, Amsterdam, 16 May 1696, no. 1);[2] Isaac Rooleeuw [c. 1650-1710], Amsterdam; (his bankruptcy sale, Amsterdam, 20 April 1701, no. 6); Paolo van Uchelen [c. 1641-1702], Amsterdam; by inheritance 1703 to his son, Paolo van Uchelen the Younger [1673-1754], Amsterdam; by inheritance to his daughter, Anna Gertruijda van Uchelen [1705-1766], Amsterdam; (her estate sale, B. Tideman, Amsterdam, 18 March 1767, no. 6); Kok.[3] Nicolaas Nieuhoff [1733-1776], Amsterdam; (his estate sale, Arnoldus Dankmeyer, Amsterdam,14 April 1777 and days following, no. 116); Van den Bogaard.[4] Maximilian I Joseph, King of Bavaria [1756-1825]; (his estate sale, Munich, 5 December 1826, no. 101, as by Gabriel Metsu); Louis Charles Victor de Riquet, duc de Caraman [1762-1839], Paris; (his sale, Salle Lebrun by Lacoste, Paris, 10-12 May 1830, no. 68). Casimir Pierre Péreir [1777-1832], Paris; his heirs; (his estate sale, Christie & Manson, London, 5 May 1848, no. 7);[5] purchased by Péreir's son, probably Auguste C.V.L. Périer, later Casimir-Périer [1811-1876];[6] probably by inheritance to Auguste's daughter, Marie Thérèse Henriette Jeanne, comtesse de Ségur [1844-1916, née Périer];[7] purchased 1910 by (P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London); one-quarter share purchased October 1910 by (M. Knoedler & Co., New York); sold 11 January 1911 to Peter A. B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania;[8] inheritance from Estate of Peter A. B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; gift 1942 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1912
Exhibition of Old Masters for the Benefit of The Artists' Funds and Artists' Aid Societies, M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1912, no. 49.
1925
A Loan Exhibition of Dutch Paintings, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1925, no. 33, repro.
1933
A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago, 1933, no. 80.
1984
Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1984, no. 118.
1995
Dutch Cabinet Galleries, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1995-1996, no cat.
1995
Johannes Vermeer, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1995-1996, no. 10, repro.
1998
A Collector's Cabinet, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, no. 61, fig. 14.
1999
Johannes Vermeer: The Art of Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999-2000, brochure, fig. 9.
2000
The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer, Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, 2000, no. 33, repro.
2001
Vermeer and the Delft School, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The National Gallery, London, 2001, no. 73, repro., as Woman with a Balance.
2011
Vermeer in München. König Maximilian I. Joseph von Bayern as Sammler Alter Meister [Vermeer in Munich - King Max I Joseph of Bavaria as a Collector of Old Masters], Bayerisches Staatsgemäldesammlungen - Alte Pinakothek, Munich, 2011, no. 1, repro.
2012
Masterpiece of the Month, Detroit Institute of Arts, 2012, no catalogue.

Bibliography

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Thoré, Théophile E. J. (William Bürger). "Van der Meer de Delft." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 21 (October–December 1866): 328, 459-460, 554-556, no. 27.
1888
Havard, Henry. Van der Meer de Delft. Paris, 1888: 37, no. 30.
1907
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. 8 vols. Translated by Edward G. Hawke. London, 1907-1927: 1(1907):586-587, no. 10.
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Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907-1928: 1(1907):592, no. 10.
1910
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. "A Newly Discovered Picture by Vermeer of Delft." The Burlington Magazine 18 (December 1910): 133–134.
1911
Bode, Wilhelm von. "Jan Vermeer und Pieter de Hooch als Konkurrenten." Jahrbuch der Königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 32 (1911): 1-2, repro.
1911
Plietzsch, Eduard. Vermeer van Delft. Leipzig, 1911: 49-50, 98, 119, no. 35.
1912
Frimmel, Theodor von. "A Woman Weighing Pearls by Vermeer of Delft." The Burlington Magazine 22 (October 1912): 48-49.
1913
Frimmel, Theodor von. Lexikon der Wiener Gemäldesammlungen. 2 vols. Munich, 1913: 1:248-249, pl. 37.
1913
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1913
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis, and Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Pictures in the collection of P. A. B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: Early German, Dutch & Flemish Schools. Philadelphia, 1913: unpaginated, repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
1919
Bode, Wilhelm von. Die Meister der holländischen und vlämischen Malerschulen. 2nd ed. Leipzig, 1919: 86-89, repro.
1921
Vanzype, Gustave. Jan Vermeer de Delft. Brussels and Paris, 1921: 73, repro.
1923
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1924
Hausenstein, Wilhelm. "Vermeer van Delft." Das Bild Atlanten zur Kunst 10 (1924): 26, fig. 17.
1925
Lloyd, David. "The Vermeers in America." International Studio 82 (November 1925): 124, repro. 128.
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Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Loan Exhibition of Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. Exh. cat. Detroit Institute of Arts Detroit, 1925: no. 33, repro.
1927
Ricci, Seymour de. "Le quarante-et-unième Vermeer." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 69 (1927): 306.
1927
Valentiner, Wilhelm R. "Pieter de Hooch, Part II." Art in America 15, no. 2 (February 1927): 74.
1929
Lucas, Edward Verrall. Vermeer the Magical. London, 1929: 28-29, repro.
1931
Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 50, repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
1933
Frankfurter, Alfred M. "Art in the Century of Progress." The Fine Arts 20, no. 2 (June 1933): repro. 24.
1933
Rich, Daniel Catton, ed. A Century of Progress: Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture. Exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago,1933: 13, no. 80.
1935
Tietze, Hans. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935: 187, 337, repro. .
1937
Hale, Philip Leslie. Vermeer. Edited by Frederick W. Coburn and Ralph T. Hale. Boston and New York, 1937: 140-142, pl. 27.
1938
Rudolph, Herbert. "‘Vanitas.’ Die Bedeutung mittelalterlicher und humanistischer Bildinhalte in der niederländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts." In Festschrift für Wilhelm Pinder zum sechzigsten Geburtstage. Leipzig, 1938: 407 fig. 2, 408-412, 433.
1939
Plietzsch, Eduard. Vermeer van Delft. Munich, 1939: 31, 56, 58, no. 9, pl. 36.
1939
Tietze, Hans. Masterpieces of European Painting in America. New York, 1939: no. 187, repro.
1939
Vries, Ary Bob de. Jan Vermeer van Delft. Bibliotheek der Nederlandsche Kunst. Amsterdam, 1939: 46, 58, 76, 86-87, no. 23, pl. 48.
1940
Goldscheider, Ludwig. The Paintings of Jan Vermeer. Oxford and New York, 1940: 13, pl. 33.
1942
National Gallery of Art. Works of art from the Widener collection. Washington, 1942: 7, no. 693, as A Woman Weighing Gold.
1944
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Masterpieces of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. Translated. New York, 1944: 104, color repro., as Woman Weighing Gold.
1945
Vries, Ary Bob de. Jan Vermeer van Delft. Basel, 1945: 56-57, 114-115, no. 23, pl. 49.
1946
Blum, André. Vermeer et Thoré-Bürger. Geneva, 1946: 30, 42, 60, 135, 171-172, no. 27.
1948
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Washington, 1948: 65, repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
1948
Vries, Ary Bob de. Jan Vermeer van Delft. Translated by Robert Allen. Revised ed. London and New York, 1948: 39, 48, 87-88, pl. 17.
1949
Thienen, Frithjof van. Jan Vermeer of Delft. Masters of Painting. New York, 1949: 19, 23, no. 23, repro.
1950
Swillens, P. T. A. Johannes Vermeer: Painter of Delft, 1632–1675. Translated by C.M. Breuning-Williamson. Utrecht, 1950: 57-58, no. 20, 72, 78, 84, 86, 88, 105, 118, pl. 20.
1951
Whittet, G. S. "A Gallery of Art Dealers: P. & D. Colnaghi." The Studio 142 (October 1951): 118.
1952
Gowing, Lawrence. Vermeer. London, 1952: 44, 53, 135-136, pls. 44-46.
1952
Malraux, André, ed. Vermeer de Delft. Paris, 1952: 16, repro., 62, no. xii, color repro.
1954
Bloch, Vitale. Tutta la Pittura di Vermeer di Delft. Milan, 1954: 21, 33, pls. 38, 39 (detail) .
1956
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 44, color repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
1957
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 53, as A Woman Weighing Gold.
1958
Goldscheider, Ludwig. Jan Vermeer: The Paintings. London, 1958: 22, 138, no. 21, pl. 51, color pl. 52.
1959
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Reprint. Washington, DC, 1959: 65, repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
1960
Baird, Thomas P. Dutch Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art 7. Washington, 1960: 36, color repro., asA Woman Weighing Gold.
1960
The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 26, color repro. 14, as Woman Weighing Gold.
1963
Bloch, Vitale. All the Paintings of Jan Vermeer. Translated by Michael Kitson. The Complete Library of World Art 15. New York, 1963: 21, 33, pls. 38, 39 (detail).
1963
Gimpel, René. Journal d'un collectionneur, marchand de tableaux. Paris, 1963: 234, 415.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 100, repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
1965
National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 135, as A Woman Weighing Gold.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2: 256, color repro., as Woman Weighing Gold.
1966
Descargues, Pierre. Vermeer. Translated by James Emmons. Geneva, 1966: 93, 131, color repros. 87, 92.
1966
Rosenberg, Jakob, Seymour Slive, and Engelbert H. ter Kuile. Dutch Art and Architecture: 1600-1800. Pelican History of Art. Batlimore, 1966: 121-122, pl. 91b.
1967
Bianconi, Piero. The Complete Paintings of Vermeer. New York, 1967: 92, no. 24, color pl. xix.
1967
Koningsberger, Hans. The World of Vermeer 1632-1675. New York, 1967: 148, 152, 153, color repro.
1968
Kühn, Hermann. "A Study of the Pigments and the Grounds Used by Jan Vermeer." Report and Studies in the History of Art 2 (1968-1969):191-192, no. 17.
1968
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 122, repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
1970
Walicki, Michal. Jan Vermeer van Delft. Dresden, 1970: 32-37, fig. 49.
1971
Carstensen, Richard, and Marielene Putscher. "Ein Bild von Vermeer in medizinhistorischen Sicht." Deutsches Ärzteblatt-Ärtzliche Mitteilungen 68 (December 1971): 1-6, repro.
1972
Kahr, Madlyn Millner. "Vermeer's Girl Asleep." Metropolitan Museum Journal 6 (1972): 129 n. 29.
1973
Mistler, Jean. Vermeer. Collection Le Peintre et l’Homme. Paris, 1973: no. 19, repro.
1973
Walsh, John, Jr. "Vermeer." Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 31, no. 4 (Summer 1973): unpaginated, fig. 75, as Woman with Scales.
1974
Grimme, Ernst Günther. Jan Vermeer van Delft. Cologne, 1974: 54, no. 17, figs. 11, 12 (detail).
1975
Blankert, Albert. Johannes Vermeer van Delft, 1632-1675. Utrecht, 1975: 62-64, 82, 149-150, no. 15, color repro.
1975
Dudok van Heel, S. A. C. . "De Kunstverzamelingen van Lennep met de Arundeltekeningen." Amstelodamum 67 (1975): 162.
1975
National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 362, no. 693, repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
1976
Alpers, Svetlana. "Describe or Narrate? A Problem in Realistic Representation." New Literary History 8, no. 1 (Autumn 1976): 25-26, 37, fig. 12.
1976
Harbison, Craig. "Reformation Iconography: Problems and Attitudes." Print Review (Tribute to Wolfgang Stechow) 5 (Autumn 1976): 83, fig. 8.
1976
Wright, Christopher. Vermeer. London, 1976: 13-14, 74, 76, 78, 81, fig. 25.
1977
Martin, John Rupert. Baroque. London, 1977: 132-133, fig. 99.
1977
Menzel, Gerhard W. Vermeer. Leipzig, 1977: 48, 56-57, color repro., detail.
1977
Silver, Larry. "Power and Pelf: A New-Found "Old Man" by Massys." Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 9, no. 2 (1977): 84-85.
1977
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "Review of Albert Blankert's Johannes Vermeer van Delft, 1632-1675." The Art Bulletin 59, no. 3 (1977): 439-441.
1978
Blankert, Albert. Vermeer of Delft: Complete Edition of the Paintings. Oxford, 1978: 22, 41-44, 49, 54, 67, 161-162, no. 15, color repro.
1978
Gemäldegalerie Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Catalogue of Paintings: 13th-18th Century. Translated by Linda B. Parshall. 2nd revised ed. Berlin-Dahlem, 1978: 212.
1978
Picture Gallery Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz Berlin: Catalogue of Paintings 13th-18th Century. Translated by Linda B. Parshall. 2nd rev. ed. Berlin-Dahlem, 1978: 212.
1979
Snow, Edward A. A Study of Vermeer. Berkeley, 1979: 10, 34-36, 38, 44, 60, 62, 97, 126, 132-136, 138, 174-176, color repro. fig. 13; color details figs. 26, 51, 52.
1979
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 75, pl. 61.
1980
Reuterswärd, Patrik. "Om realismen i holländsk bildtradition." Konsthistorisk Tidskrift 49 (June 1980): 8, fig. 8.
1980
Seth, Lennart. "Vermeer och van Veens ‘Amorum Emblemata’." Konsthistorisk tidskrift 49, no. 1 (June 1980): 24.
1980
Sutton, Peter C. Pieter de Hooch: Complete Edition with a Catalogue Raisonné. Oxford, 1980: 45, 68 n. 37, fig. 32.
1981
Slatkes, Leonard J. Vermeer and His Contemporaries. New York, 1981: 55-56, color repro., color detail.
1981
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Jan Vermeer. New York, 1981: 41-42, 106-109, color pls. 22, 23 (detail).
1983
Salomon, Nanette. "Vermeer and the Balance of Destiny." In Essays in Northern European Art Presented to Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann on His Sixtieth Birthday. Edited by Anne-Marie Logan. Doornspijk, 1983: 216-221, repro.
1984
Gaskell, Ivan. "Vermeer, Judgment and Truth." The Burlington Magazine 126 (September 1984): 557-561, repro.
1984
Rosenberg, Jakob, Seymour Slive, and Engelbert H. ter Kuile. Dutch Art and Architecture. The Pelican History of Art. Revised ed. Harmondsworth, 1984: 121-122, pl. 91b.
1984
Sutton, Peter C. Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting. Edited by Jane Iandola Watkins. (Exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art; Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin; Royal Academy of Arts, London). Philadelphia, 1984: no. 118.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 301, no. 400, color repro.
1985
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 421, repro.
1985
Wyss, Beat. Trauer der Vollendung: von der Ästhetik des Deutschen Idealismus zur Kulturkritik an der Moderne. Münich, 1985: 98-101, repro.
1986
Aillaud, Gilles, Albert Blankert, and John Michael Montias. Vermeer. Paris, 1986: 49, 51, 112, 114, 116, no. 15, 183-185, pl. 15.
1986
Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids and Kampen, 1986: 311, repro.
1988
Bialostocki, Jan. "Mere Imitation of Nature or Symbolic Image of the World? Problems in the Interpretation of Dutch Painting of the XVIIth Century." In The Message of Images: Studies in the History of Art. Vienna, 1988: 171, fig. 129.
1988
Reuterswärd, Patrik. "Vermeer. Ett försvar för ögats vittnesbörd." Konsthistorisk Tidskrift 57, part 2 (1988): 55-59, fig. 2.
1988
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Jan Vermeer. Masters of Art. 2nd rev. ed. New York, 1988: 82, color repro.
1989
Montias, John Michael. Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History. Princeton, 1989: 162, 182, 191, 255-256, 261, fig. 30.
1990
Cunnar, Eugene R. "The Viewer’s Share: Three Sectarian Readings of Vermeer’s Woman with a Balance." Exemplaria 2 (1990): 501-536.
1990
Liedtke, Walter A. "Dutch Paintings in America: The Collectors and their Ideals." In Great Dutch Paintings from America. Edited by Ben P.J. Broos. Exh. cat. Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The Hague and Zwolle, 1990: 43.
1990
Liedtke, Walter A. "Dutch Paintings in America: The Collectors and their Ideals." In Great Dutch Paintings from America. Edited by Ben P.J. Broos. Exh. cat. Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Zwolle, 1990: 43.
1991
Bal, Mieke. Reading "Rembrandt": beyond the word-image opposition. Cambridge new art history and criticism. Cambridge, 1991: 1-4, 19-23, 177, repro. 0.1.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 195.
1991
Martz, Louis L. From Renaissance to Baroque: essays on literature and art. Columbia, Missouri, 1991: 32-33, fig. 12.
1991
Nash, John. Vermeer. London, 1991: 24, 26, 28, 39, 98-99, color repro.
1992
Fiero, Gloria K. The Age of the Baroque and the European Enlightenment. The Humanist Tradition 4. Dubuque, 1992: 47-48, fig. 22.10.
1992
Lucie-Smith, Edward. Art and Civilization. New York, 1992: 300-301, fig. 17.10.
1992
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 137, repro.
1993
Schneider, Norbert. Jan Vermeer 1632-1675: Verhüllung der Gefühle. Cologne, 1993: 95, no. 59.
1993
Stoichita, Victor I. L'Instauration du tableau: Métapeinture à l'aube des temps modernes. Paris, 1993: 176-177, fig. 75.
1994
Asemissen, Hermann Ulrich, and Gunter Schweikhart. Malerei als Thema der Malerei. Berlin, 1994: 232-233, fig. 29.
1994
Brunette, Peter, and David Wills. Deconstruction and the Visual Arts: Art, Media, Architecture. Cambridge, England, 1994: 51, fig. 1.
1994
Knafou, Rémy. Vermeer: mystère du quotidien. Paris, 1994: 38-39, repro.
1995
Bailey, Martin. "The Painter of Light." Silver Kris - The Travel Magazine of Singapore Airlines (November 1995): 42-45, repro.
1995
Bailey, Martin. Vermeer. London, 1995: 72-74, repro.
1995
Cooper, James F. "Vermeer Illuminates the National Gallery." American Arts Quarterly (Fall 1995): 3-7, repro.
1995
Dudat, Helen. "Time stands still in the harmonious world of Vermeer." Smithsonian 26, no. 8 (November 1995): 110.
1995
Feldman, Edmund Burke. The Artist: A Social History. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, 1995: repro. 190, 191.
1995
Fiero, Gloria K. The Age of the Baroque and the European Enlightenment. The Humanistic Tradition 4. 2nd ed. Madison, 1995: 55, fig. 22.10.
1995
Gregory, Quint [Henry D. Gregory V]. "Vermeer, tout l'oeuvre peint." Connaissance des Arts 522 (November 1996): 80-81, figs. 4, 5 (detail)..
1995
Janson, Horst W., and Anthony F. Janson. History of art. 5th ed. New York, 1995: 38, 39 fig. 23.
1995
Slive, Seymour, and Jakob Rosenberg. Dutch painting 1600-1800. Pelican History of Art. Revised and expanded ed. New Haven, 1995: 148.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., and Ben P. J. Broos. Johannes Vermeer. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague. Zwolle, 1995: no. 10, repro.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 371-377, color repro. 373.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Vermeer and the Art of Painting. New Haven, 1995: 96 color fig. 70, 97-103, detail and conservation figs. 71-73, no. A16, repro. 176.
1995
Wright, Christopher. Vermeer: catalogue raisonné. London, 1995: 56-57, repro.
1996
Chalumeau, Jean Luc. Vermeer, 1632-1675. Découvrons l'art - XVIIe siècle 1. Paris, 1996: no. 14, repro.
1996
Hertel, Christiane. Vermeer: Reception and Interpretation. Cambridge, 1996: 215-216, repro.
1996
Kersten, Michiel C.C., and Daniëlle H.A.C. Lokin. Delft masters, Vermeer's contemporaries: illusionism through the conquest of light and space. Exh. cat. Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof, Delft. Zwolle, 1996: 204-206, repro.
1996
Kissick, John. Art: Context and Criticism. Madison, 1996: 21-22, fig. 1.7.
1996
Larsen, Erik. Jan Vermeer. Translated by Tania Gargiulo. Biblioteca d'arte. Florence, 1996: 99-101.
1996
Netta, Irene. Das Phänomen Zeit bei Jan Vermeer van Delft: eine Analyse der innerbildlichen Zeitstrukturen seiner ein- und mehrfigurigen Interieurbilder. Studien zur Kunstgeschichte 105. Hildesheim, 1996: 257, fig. 23.
1996
Wallis, Stephen. "Sketchbook: Knoedler Turns 150." Art & Antiques 19, no. 10 (November 1996): 18.
1997
Gebhardt, Volker. Kunstgeschichte Malerei. Cologne, 1997: no. 127, repro.
1997
Gowing, Lawrence. Vermeer. 3rd ed. London, 1997: 135-136, figs. 44-46.
1997
Niggemeyer, Margarete, and Hans-Walter Stork. Perlen schimmern auf den Toren: eine Auslegung des Perlensymbols in christlichen und ausserchristlichen Traditionen. Paderborn, 1997: 63, repro.
1997
Robinson, James. "Vermeer." Classical Realism Journal 3, no. 2 (1997): 12, 15 fig. 8.
1997
Robinson, James. "Vermeer, II." Classical Realism Journal 4, no. 1 (1997): repro. 46, 48.
1997
Scholz, Georg. Lyrische Bilder: Gedichte nach Gemälden von Jan Vermeer. Munich, 1997: 42, repro.
1997
Toman, Rolf. Die Kunst des Barock: Architektur, Skulptur, Malerei. Cologne, 1997: 465, repro.
1997
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Vermeer: The Complete Works. New York, 1997: 36-37, no. 16, repro.
1998
Fiero, Gloria K. Faith, Reason and Power in the Early Modern World. The Humanistic Tradition 4. 3rd ed. New York, 1998: no. 22.10, repro.
1998
Gersch-Nešic, Beth. “Pregnancy." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:754.
1998
Gifford, Melanie E. "Painting Light: Recent Observations on Vermeer's Technique." In Vermeer Studies. Edited by Ivan Gaskell and Michiel Jonker. Studies in the History of Art 55 (1998): 185-199, fig. 1.
1998
Roberts, Helene E., ed. Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:749, 753.
1998
Schlenke, Hubertus. Vermeer, mit Spinoza gesehen. Berlin, 1998: 52-55, figs. 13a, 13b (detail), 94-99, figs. 21, 21a (detail).
1998
Sutton, Peter C. Pieter de Hooch, 1629-1684. Exh. cat. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford. New Haven, 1998: 52-55, repro.
1998
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. A Collector's Cabinet. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1998: 24, 26, fig. 14, 32, 68, no. 61.
1998
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675): Sainte Praxède - Saint Praxedis. Collection de Madame Piasecka Johnson. Exh. cat. Musée de La Chapelle de la Visitation, Monaco, 1998: 8, 17 fig. 7, 28.
1999
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. 2 vols. Rev.ised ed. New York, 1999: 2:795-797, fig. 19-53.
1999
Sweet, Christopher. The Essential Johannes Vermeer. New York, 1999: 70-71, repro.
1999
Zeki, Semir. Inner vision: an exploration of art and the brain. Oxford, 1999: 27-29, 28 fig. 4.3.
1999
Zuffi, Stefano and Francesca Castria, La peinture baroque. Translated from Italian by Silvia Bonucci and Claude Sophie Mazéas. Paris, 1999: 208-209, color repro.
2000
Chapman, H. Perry. "Women in Vermeer's Home: Mimesis and ideation." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 51 (2000): 254-257, repro.
2000
Kallenberg, Kjell, and Gerry Larsson. Människans hälsa: Livsåskådning och personlighet. Stockholm, 2000: cover repro.
2000
Savedoff, Barbara E. Transforming Images: How Photography Complicates the Picture. Ithaca, 2000: 11-14, repro.
2000
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer. Exh. cat. Osaka Municipal Museum of Art. London, 2000: 10, repro. detail, 13, fig. 4, cat. 33, 182-184, repro., 201, no. 16, repro.
2001
Bal, Mieke. Looking In: The Art of Viewing. Critical voices in art, theory and culture. Amsterdam, 2001: 65-66, repro.
2001
Franits, Wayne E., ed. The Cambridge companion to Vermeer. Cambridge, England, and New York, 2001: 4, 5, 54, 60-63, 68, 69-70, 71-72, 122-125, 141, 143, 144, 147-149, 154, 159-160, 169-170, 180, pl.15.
2001
Netta, Irene. Vermeer's world: an artist and his town. Pegasus Library. Munich and New York, 2001: 17, 84, repro.
2001
Wolf, Bryan Jay. Vermeer and the Invention of Seeing. Chicago, 2001: 167-170, repro.
2002
Bailey, Anthony. Vermeer. Translated by Bettina Blumenberg. Berlin, 2002: 148-149, repro.
2002
Kaufmann, Thomas DaCosta, ed. L'art flamand et hollandais: Belgique et Pays-Bas, 1520-1914. Paris, 2002: repro. 268, 302.
2003
Fowler, Alastair. Renaissance realism: narrative images in literature and art. Oxford, 2003: 10, fig. 15.
2003
Huerta, Robert D. Giants of Delft: Johannes Vermeer and the natural philosophers: the parallel search for knowledge during the age of discovery. Lewisburg, 2003: 47, 66, 68, repro.
2003
Vergara, Alejandro. Vermeer y el interior holandés. Exh. cat. Museo nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2003: 172-173, 254, repro.
2004
Cabanne, Pierre. Vermeer. Translated by John Tittensor. Paris, 2004: 164, 180, repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 206-207, no. 163, color repro.
2004
Paskow, Alan. The paradoxes of art: a phenomenological investigation. Cambridge, 2004: 174-183, pl. 2.
2004
Salomon, Nanette. Shifting priorities: gender and genre in seventeenth-century Dutch painting. Stanford, 2004: 13-18, fig. 1.
2004
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "Framing Vermeer." In Collected Opinions: Essays on Netherlandish Art in Honour of Alfred Bader. Edited by Volker Manuth and Axel Rüger. London, 2004: 232-238, repro.
2005
Alpers, Svetlana. The vexations of art: Velázquez and others. New Haven and London, 2005: 102-104, repro.
2005
Harris, Ann Sutherland. Seventeenth-century art & architecture. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2005: 371, repro.
2005
Huerta, Robert D. Vermeer and Plato: painting the ideal. Lewisburg, 2005: 54, 55, repro.
2005
Lopes, Dominic McIver. Sight and sensibility: evaluating pictures. Oxford, 2005: 1-5, repro.
2005
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. Rev. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, 2005: 776, color fig. 19.64.
2006
Dekiert, Marcus. Alte Pinakothek: Holländische und deutsche Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts. Munich, 2006: 19-21, color fig. 9.
2006
Franits, Wayne E. Pieter de Hooch: A woman preparing bread and butter for a boy. Getty Museum Studies on Art. Los Angeles, 2006: 30-32, fig. 29, 72 n. 25.
2006
Stone, Harriet Amy. Tables of knowledge: Descartes in Vermeer's studio. Ithaca, 2006: 125-131, pl. 14.
2006
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "A Museum Curator’s Perspective." IFAR Journal: International Foundation of Art Research 8, no. 3-4 (2006): 96-97, repro.
2008
Dolnick, Edward. The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century. New York, 2008: 90-91.
2008
Liedtke, Walter A. Vermeer: the complete paintings. Ghent, 2008: no. 19, 118-121, repro.
2008
Lopez, Jonathan. The man who made Vermeers: unvarnishing the legend of master forger Han van Meegeren. Orlando, 2008: 53.
2009
Gariff, David, Eric Denker, and Dennis P. Weller. The World's Most Influential Painters and the Artists They Inspired. Hauppauge, NY, 2009: 83, color repro.
2010
Taylor, Paul. Vermeer, Lairesse and Composition. Hofstede de Groot Lectures 1. Zwolle, 2010: 6, 21, repro.
2011
Dekiert, Marcus. Vermeer in München: König Max I Joseph von Bayern als Sammler Alter Meister. Exh. cat. Bayerisches Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek. Munich, 2011: 48-53, no. 1, color repro.
2011
Henderson, Jasper and Victor Schiferli. Vermeer: The Life and Work of a Master. Amsterdam, 2011: 46-49, color ill.
2011
Nuechterlein, Jeanne. Translating Nature Into Art: Holbein, The Reformation, and Renaissance Rhetoric. University Park, Pennsylvania, 2011: 3, fig. 3.
2011
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., and Daniëlle H.A.C. Lokin. Communication: Visualizing the Human Connection in the Age of Vermeer. Japanese ed. Exh. cat. Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art; Miyagi Museum of Art, Sendai; Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo. Tokyo, 2011: 46, fig. 14.
2011
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., and Daniëlle H.A.C. Lokin. Human Connections in the Age of Vermeer. Exh. cat. Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art; Miyagi Museum of Art, Sendai; Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo. London, 2011: 46, fig. 14.
2011
Wieseman, Marjorie E. Vermeer's Women: Secrets and Silence. Exh. cat. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. New Haven, 2011: 82-85, repro.
2011
Wieseman, Marjorie E. Vermeer's Women: Secrets and Silence. Exh. cat. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. New Haven, 2011: 82–85, repro.
2012
Moser, Benjamin. "Mammonomania: A Reappraisal of Dutch Golden Age Paintings." Harper's 324, no. 1942 (March 2012): 73-75, color repro.
2012
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., Walter A. Liedtke, and Sandrina Bandera Bistoletti. Vermeer: il secolo d'oro dell'arte olandese. Exh. cat. Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome. Milan, 2012: 26, 27 fig. 5, 72 fig. 29.

Technical Summary

The original support is a very fine, tightly woven fabric.[1] When the painting was lined, the format was enlarged about one-half inch on all sides by opening out and flattening the tacking margins. The composition was extended by overpainting these unpainted edges. Regularly spaced tacking holes and losses in the ground layer along the folds of fabric bent over the original stretcher confirm that these smaller dimensions were the original format.

A moderately thick, warm buff ground is present overall, and extends onto the tacking margins.[2] Examination has not shown evidence of an underdrawing but does show a brown painted sketch describing the forms with fine lines and indicating shadows with areas of wash. Microscopic examination shows a pinhole in the back wall near the balance, where the artist probably pinned strings to establish the orthogonals of the perspective system.[3] Both the ground color and the brown sketch influence the final image, the ground color warming the thinly painted flesh tones and hood and the brown sketch contributing shadows to the blue jacket. Vermeer blended finely ground, fluid paint with imperceptible brushstrokes and added rounded, thicker touches to create specular highlights. He softened some contours by overlapping paints and suggested others by leaving a thin line of brown sketch between two edges. No pentimenti are visible in the X-radiograph; an infrared photograph reveals a change in the position of the balance.

Small losses are found in the figure, small areas of abrasion in the dark passages. Discolored inpainting and varnish were removed in 1994. During this treatment, black overpaint covering the frame of the Last Judgment on the wall behind the woman was removed, revealing two vertical bands of yellow paint along the right side of the frame.[4] Overpaint that had been applied along the opened-out tacking margins when the painting was restretched on a larger stretcher has been removed. The painted image, now smaller, reflects Vermeer’s original intention. No pentimenti are visible in the X-radiograph; an infrared photograph reveals a change in the position of the balance.

 

[1] Average densities of 20.5 threads/cm horizontally and 16.5 threads/cm vertically were measured by the Thread Count Automation Project of Cornell University and Rice University (see report dated May 2010 in NGA Conservation department files).

[2] For pigment analysis of the paint layers see Hermann Kühn, "A Study of the Pigments and the Grounds Used by Jan Vermeer," in National Gallery of Art Report and Studies in the History of Art 2 (1968): 191–192. Kühn’s conclusion that the yellow of the curtain is Indian yellow is based on a sample taken from the overpaint near the edge of the painting. Subsequent pigment analysis of the ground was undertaken on June 26, 1974, by Robert L. Feller, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, and by the NGA Scientific Research department using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and X-ray powder diffraction and optical microscopy (see reports dated September 30, 1994, and October 12, 1994, in NGA Conservation department files). See also Melanie Gifford, "Painting Light: Recent Observations on Vermeer's Technique," in Vermeer Studies, ed. Ivan Gaskell and Michiel Jonker (Washington, 1998), 185–199.

[3] For this practice in Vermeer’s paintings see Jørgen Wadum, "Vermeer in Perspective," in Johannes Vermeer, ed. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. (New Haven and London, 1995), 66–79.

[4] The paint and ground layers in this area were studied by the NGA Scientific Research department using cross-sections (see report dated July 11, 1994, in NGA Conservation department files).

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Woman Holding a Balance
  • Comparable Figure
    [fig. 1] Detail, Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection, 1942.9.97
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  • Comparable Figure
    [fig. 2] X-radiograph composite, Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection, 1942.9.97
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  • Comparable Figure
    [fig. 3] Pieter de Hooch, A Woman Weighing Gold, mid-1660s, oil on canvas, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Gemäldegalerie. Photo: bpk, Berlin / Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin / Jörg P. Anders / Art Resource, NY
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  • [1]

    The author of this painting has remained an enigma. No exact prototype for this composition of the Last Judgment is known. It appears, however, to be the work of a late sixteenth-century mannerist painter, probably of Flemish origin. One distinct possibility, kindly suggested by Dr. Pieter J. J. van Thiel, is Jacob de Backer (c. 1555–c.1585), a student of Frans Floris I (Flemish, c. 1519 - 1570) and an artist who specialized in similar Last Judgment scenes. A distinctive characteristic of this composition, found often in De Backer’s works, is that Christ sits in judgment with both arms raised. Vermeer probably owned this painting of the Last Judgment. He dealt in works of art and seems to have used works from his own collection in his paintings. In the instances where we know the actual painting Vermeer owned, as, for example, The Procuress, 1622 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, inv. no. 50.2721), by Dirck van Baburen (Dutch, c. 1595 - 1624), a painting that appears in two Vermeer compositions, his depictions remain rather faithful to the actual painting. He apparently modified the color schemes and the scale of the painting only to satisfy the needs of his composition. He probably made similar adjustments in the Last Judgment. For documents relating to the Baburen painting see A. J. J. M. van Peer, “Jan Vermeer van Delft: drie archiefvondsten,” Oud Holland 88 (1968): 220–224. For other instances of Dutch artists altering the dimensions of paintings within paintings see Wolfgang Stechow, “Landscape Painting in Dutch Seventeenth-Century Interiors,” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 11 (1960): 165–184.

  • [2]

    A review of the diverse interpretations in the earlier literature on this painting is enlightening. It reinforces the notion that Vermeer often chose motifs and moments that have dual implications, ones which the protagonists, as well as the observer, must struggle to resolve. Théophile Thoré (William Bürger), to whom we owe so much for his enthusiasm and research of Vermeer, cataloged the painting as La Peseuse de perles in Théophile E. J. Thoré (William Bürger), “Van der Meer de Delft,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 21 (October–December 1866): 555–556, cat. 27. Although some confusion existed in his mind as to the objects she was weighing in her balance (“La main droite en l’air tient la balance soulevée; dans les plateaux sont des perles et des pièces d’or [?]”), he recognized immediately that a relationship existed between the painting behind the girl and her actions: “–Ah! tu pèses des bijoux? tu seras pesée et jugée à ton tour!” (Ah, you weigh jewelry? You too will be weighed and judged!). Cornelis Hofstede de Groot (A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, trans. Edward G. Hawke, 8 vols. [London, 1907–1927], 1:586), on the other hand, described the painting as A Woman Weighing Gold: “In an interior a woman, wearing a dark blue velvet jacket trimmed with fur, stands weighing gold at a table with a blue cover.” Later, in “A Newly Discovered Picture by Vermeer of Delft,” Burlington Magazine 18 (December 1910): 134, Hofstede de Groot offered a somewhat more complex interpretation of the scene: “Her attention is concentrated on weighing gold, or possibly on testing the accuracy of her scales, for the purpose of weighing the pearls lying before her on the table; thus the picture is also mentioned by the title of A Woman Weighing Pearls. Philip L. Hale, Vermeer (Boston and New York, 1937), 140–142, returned to this idea in his monograph on Vermeer. He cataloged the painting as “A Woman Weighing Gold sometimes called A Woman Weighing Pearls.” In his description of the painting he wrote: “Either weighing gold or testing the weights of her scale to weigh some pearls lying nearby, a lady stands close to an open window.”

    Perhaps the most extensive analysis of the symbolism of this painting was in Herbert Rudolph, “‘Vanitas.’ Die Bedeutung mittelalterlicher und humanistischer Bildinhalte in der niederländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts,” in Festschrift für Wilhelm Pinder zum sechzigsten Geburtstage (Leipzig, 1938), 405–412. He reemphasized the observation of Thoré (Bürger) on the thematic importance of paintings within paintings in the Dutch and Flemish traditions, extending back to Jan van Eyck and the Master of Flémalle. Rudolph saw the scene of the Last Judgment as a central clue to the hidden symbolism of this painting, which he entitled The Pearlweigher. To help interpret the symbolism he emphasized that pearls and mirrors often had vanitas connotations, ones that were strengthened in the context of a scene of the Last Judgment. Indeed, he saw the woman as a personification of Vanitas. Rudolph noted, however, that the scales that the woman was holding were empty.

    P. T. A. Swillens, Johannes Vermeer: Painter of Delft, 1632–1675 (Utrecht, 1950), 105, also called the painting Girl Weighing Pearls but did not emphasize the vanitas nature of the scene as explicitly as did Rudolph. He wrote: “She endeavours to adjust her small scales, and is concentrating on this matter. . . . The thought of ‘The Judgment’ compels her to adjust the balance to accuracy.” Lawrence Gowing, Vermeer (London, 1952), 135, offered yet another interpretation. Entitling the painting A Lady Weighing Gold, he wrote: “In this painting a connection between the lady, who seems to be weighing pearls against gold, and the painting that hangs on the wall behind her turns the incident into a fanciful allegory of the Last Judgment.” He then added: “she takes on something of the character of Saint Michael, the weigher of souls in the part of the Last Judgment which is hidden.”

    Albert P. de Mirimonde, “Les Sujets musicaux chez Vermeer de Delft,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 57 (January 1961): 29, wrote about the symbolism of this painting:

    Now, in the case of the pearl weigher, Vermeer became moralist. Behind the beautiful woman, he placed a large painting whose meaning is full of threats: a Last Judgement. Who knows if these beautiful necklaces from the East will not be weighing very heavily in the balance of the Archangel? [translated by Jennifer Henel, 01/23/2012, from the French: Or pour une fois, dans la peseuse de perles, Vermeer s’est fait moraliste. Derrière la jolie femme, il a placé un grand tableau dont la signification est pleine de menaces: un jugement dernier. Qui sait si ces colliers d’un si bel orient ne seront pas d’un poids bien lourd dans la balance de l’Archange?]

    Ludwig Goldscheider, Jan Vermeer: The Paintings (London, 1958), 38, searching for the symbolism of the painting wrote: “If pearls can be the embodiment of earthly, transient beauty, how are we to interpret the picture of the Last Judgment behind the Lady Weighing Pearls? Vermeer’s symbolism is not hard to understand.”

  • [3]

    This was proposed by Herbert Rudolph, “‘Vanitas.’ Die Bedeutung mittelalterlicher und humanistischer Bildinhalte in der niederländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts,” in Festschrift für Wilhelm Pinder zum sechzigsten Geburtstage (Leipzig, 1938), 409. Actually since Christian iconography treats the pearl, the most precious jewel, as a symbol of salvation, it would be unusual for it to have strong vanitas connotations. See George Ferguson, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art (New York, 1959), 23.

  • [4]

    Cesare Ripa (Iconologia of Uytbeeldingen des verstands . . ., trans. Dirck Pietersz Pers [Amsterdam, 1644], 144, 432) describes how the balance is one of the attributes of equality, Vgvalita or Gelijckheyt (“Door de Weeghschaele wort verstaen de oprachte en waerachtige recht vacrdigheyt, die een ygelijck geeft, dat hem toebehoort”), and of Justice, Giustitia or Gerechtigheyt.

  • [5]

    The mirror is frequently considered the attribute of Prudentia and Truth. For a discussion of the various connotations of the mirror in emblematic literature of the mid-seventeenth century, see G. Langemeyer et al., Gerard ter Borch: Zwolle 1617–Deventer 1681 (The Hague, 1974), 98.

  • [6]

    Otto van Veen, Amorum emblemata (Antwerp, 1608), 182. The full verse is:

    Fortune is loues looking-glas
    Eu’n as a perfect glasse doth represent the face,
    Iust as it is in deed, not flattring it at all.
    So fortune telleth by aduancement or by fall,
    Th’euent that shall succeed, in loues luck-tryed case.

    For further discussions of Vermeer’s use of Amorum emblemata see Eddy de Jongh, Zinne-en Minnebeelden in de schilderkunst van de zeventiende eeuw (Amsterdam, 1967), 49–50.

  • [7]

    Eugene R. Cunnar, “The Viewer’s Share: Three Sectarian Readings of Vermeer’s Woman with a Balance,” Exemplaria 2 (1990): 518.

  • [8]

    Anthony Mottola, ed., The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (Garden City, NY, 1964), 85.

  • [9]

    As seen in numerous paintings by Vermeer’s contemporaries, Dutch fashions in the mid-seventeenth century seem to have encouraged a bulky silhouette. The short jacket the girl wears, called a pet en lair, covered a bodice and a thickly padded skirt. This fashion created the impression of a forward-thrusting stomach, which was evidently a desirable one. The opinion that she is not pregnant but wearing such a bulky outfit, which this author expressed in Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century (Washington, DC, 1995), is shared by Albert Blankert in Gilles Aillaud, Albert Blankert, and John Michael Montias, Vermeer (Paris, 1986), 181, and by Marieke de Winkel, “The Interpretation of Dress in Vermeer's Paintings,” in Vermeer Studies, ed. Ivan Gaskell and Michiel Jonker (Washington, DC, 1998), 327–339, particularly 330–332. Nevertheless, I now consider it probable that the woman is pregnant. This change of opinion is based in part on the woman’s posture and in part on the belief that the model is Vermeer’s wife, Catharina Bolnes. See Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675): Sainte Praxède—Saint Praxedis (Monaco, 1998), 28.

  • [10]

    The theory that the woman is pregnant was first proffered by Richard Carstensen and Marielene Putscher, "Ein Bild von Vermeer in medizinhistorischen Sicht," Deutsches Ärzteblatt-Ärtzliche Mitteilungen 68 (December 1971): 1–6. The authors concluded that the woman, following an old folk tradition, was weighing pearls to help her divine the sex of the unborn child. Since then, many authors have accepted her pregnant state as fact, including John Walsh Jr., “Vermeer,” Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 31 (Summer 1973): 79, and Ernst Günther Grimme, Jan Vermeer van Delft (Cologne, 1974), 54, who, as a consequence of the supposed pregnancy, identified the model as Vermeer’s wife, Catharina Bolnes, mother of his fifteen children. I identified the model, on a different basis, as Catharina Bolnes in Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675): Sainte Praxède—Saint Praxedis (Monaco, 1998), 28.

    Nanette Salomon, “Vermeer and the Balance of Destiny,” in Essays in Northern European Art Presented to Egbert Haverkamp Begemann on His Sixtieth Birthday, ed. Anne-Marie Logan (Doornspijk, 1983), suggested that a pregnant woman holding scales would have been interpreted as a Catholic response to disagreements about the moment a Christian soul obtains grace and salvation. Instead of the predetermined state of grace accepted by the followers of Arininius or one gained through the efficacy of good works as preached by Gomanus, a Catholic, Salomon argued, would have understood that the state of grace of the unborn child was as yet undetermined. This opinion was also accepted by Sutton, in Jane Iandola Watkins, Peter C. Sutton, and Christopher Brown, Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting (Philadelphia, 1984), 342–343.

  • [11]

    Kimberley Jones, “Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance: A Secularized Vision of the Virgin Mary,” unpublished lecture delivered at the Mid-Atlantic Symposium, National Gallery of Art, 1989; Eugene R. Cunnar, “The Viewer’s Share: Three Sectarian Readings of Vermeer’s Woman with a Balance,” Exemplaria 2 (1990): 501–536.

  • [12]

    Eugene R. Cunnar, “The Viewer’s Share: Three Sectarian Readings of Vermeer’s Woman with a Balance,” Exemplaria 2 (1990): 501–536, corrects a number of misconceptions about the theological arguments advanced by Salomon and focuses on the meditative character of the image. He then analyzes the ways in which a Catholic, a Protestant, and an Arminian viewer might have responded to this work in light of their beliefs. He also accepts as fact that the woman is pregnant and attempts to relate the image to biblical texts, specifically Genesis 3:15, by interpreting the support underneath the table as the vision of a dragon described by John in Revelation 12. While one may question the likelihood of this latter interpretation, Cunnar’s assessment of the various possible theological responses to the painting is particularly useful.

  • [13]

    For an argument that Vermeer represented here “the divine truth of revealed religion,” see Ivan Gaskell, “Vermeer, Judgment and Truth,” Burlington Magazine 126 (September 1984): 558–561. To support his argument Gaskell refers to one of the personifications of Truth described by Cesare Ripa in the 1644 Dutch edition of the lconologia.

  • [14]

    See Picture Gallery Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz Berlin: Catalogue of Paintings 13th–18th Century, trans. Linda B. Parshall, 2nd rev. ed. (Berlin-Dahlem, 1978), 212. The comparison of this painting with Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance is not new. For comparisons with slightly different emphases see Wilhelm von Bode, Die Meister der holländischen und vlämischen Malerschulen, 2nd ed. (Leipzig, 1919), 86–89, and Herbert Rudolph, “‘Vanitas.’ Die Bedeutung mittelalterlicher und humanistischer Bildinhalte in der niederländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts,” in Festschrift für Wilhelm Pinder zum sechzigsten Geburtstage (Leipzig, 1938), 405–412.

  • [15]

    A possible source for such a motif is Gerrit Dou (Dutch, 1613 - 1675). Although Dou’s painting style is far more minute than Vermeer’s, many of the genre scenes painted by Vermeer have precedents in Dou’s oeuvre. See Keil Boström, “Peep-show or Case,” Kunsthistorische Mededelingen van het Rijksbureau van kunsthistorische documentatie 4 (1949): 21–24.

  • [16]

    The thematic complexities of Vermeer’s composition are also lacking in De Hooch’s work. De Hooch’s woman weighs her gold before a wall richly decorated with a gilded-leather wallcovering and a half-open door leading into a second room. Neither of these elements reinforces the thematic gesture of a woman with a balance as strongly as does the painting of Vermeer's Last Judgment.

  • [17]

    Albert Blankert, with contributions by Rob Ruurs and Willem van de Watering, Johannes Vermeer van Delft, 1632–1675 (Utrecht, 1975), 136, doc. 62. “Een Juffrouw die goud weegt in een kasje van J. van der Meer van Delft, extraordinaer konstig en kragtig geschildert.” It sold for fl 155, the third highest price in the sale. Nothing more is known of the box in which it sat, but at the very least it was a protective device designed to keep light and dust away from the painting’s delicate surface. In the 1683 inventory of goods accruing to Jacob Dissius after the death of his wife, Magdalena van Ruijven, three of Vermeer’s paintings are listed as being in boxes (kasies). See John Michael Montias, Vermeer and His Millieu: A Web of Social History (Princeton, 1989), 359, doc. 417. Presumably one of these was Woman Holding a Balance.

  • [18]

    Wilhelm Martin, Gerard Dou (London, 1902), 145–147. See also: Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “The Framing of a Vermeer,” in Collected Opinions: Essays on Netherlandish Art in Honour of Alfred Bader, ed. Volker Manuth and Axel Rüger (London, 2004), 232–239.

  • [19]

    Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “The Framing of a Vermeer,” in Collected Opinions: Essays on Netherlandish Art in Honour of Alfred Bader, ed. Volker Manuth and Axel Rüger (London, 2004), 232–239.