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.
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,
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
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
Eugene R. Cunnar, “The Viewer’s Share: Three Sectarian Readings of Vermeer’s Woman with a Balance,” Exemplaria 2 (1990): 518.
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.
Anthony Mottola, ed., The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (Garden City, NY, 1964), 85.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
An alteration made by the artist to an area that was already painted.
A photographic or digital image analysis method that visually records an object's ability to absorb or transmit x-rays. The differential absorption pattern is useful for examining an object's internal structure as well as for comparing the variation in pigment types.
Restoration performed in 1994 provides further insights into Vermeer’s extraordinary sensitivity to light and color
The painted surface now measures 39.7 × 35.5 cm (15 5/8 × 14 in.), whereas, prior to the 1994 restoration, the painting measured 42.5 × 38 cm (16 3/4 × 14 15/16 in.).
The degree of Vermeer’s sensitivity can best be illustrated by comparing this scene with a close counterpart by
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.
A possible source for such a motif is
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
August 30, 2017
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; (his sale, Amsterdam, 16 May 1696, no. 1); 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. Nicolaas Nieuhoff [1733-1776], Amsterdam; (his estate sale, Arnoldus Dankmeyer, Amsterdam,14 April 1777 and days following, no. 116); Van den Bogaard. 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); purchased by Péreir's son, probably Auguste C.V.L. Périer, later Casimir-Périer [1811-1876]; probably by inheritance to Auguste's daughter, Marie Thérèse Henriette Jeanne, comtesse de Ségur [1844-1916, née Périer]; 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; 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 of Old Masters for the Benefit of The Artists' Funds and Artists' Aid Societies, M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1912, no. 49.
- A Loan Exhibition of Dutch Paintings, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1925, no. 33, repro.
- A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago, 1933, no. 80.
- 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.
- Dutch Cabinet Galleries, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1995-1996, no cat.
- Johannes Vermeer, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1995-1996, no. 10, repro.
- A Collector's Cabinet, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, no. 61, fig. 14.
- Johannes Vermeer: The Art of Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999-2000, brochure, fig. 9.
- The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer, Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, 2000, no. 33, repro.
- 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.
- Vermeer y el interior holandés, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2003, no. 35, repro.
- Loan for display with permanent collection, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2009.
- 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.
- Masterpiece of the Month, Detroit Institute of Arts, 2012, no catalogue.
- Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, Musée du Louvre, Paris; National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin; National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2017-2018, no. 14.2, repro.
The original support is a very fine, tightly woven fabric. 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. 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. 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. 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.
 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).
 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.
 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.
 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).
- 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.
- Havard, Henry. Van der Meer de Delft. Paris, 1888: 37, no. 30.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. "A Newly Discovered Picture by Vermeer of Delft." The Burlington Magazine 18 (December 1910): 133–134.
- Bode, Wilhelm von. "Jan Vermeer und Pieter de Hooch als Konkurrenten." Jahrbuch der Königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 32 (1911): 1-2, repro.
- Plietzsch, Eduard. Vermeer van Delft. Leipzig, 1911: 49-50, 98, 119, no. 35.
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- Frimmel, Theodor von. Lexikon der Wiener Gemäldesammlungen. 2 vols. Munich, 1913: 1:248-249, pl. 37.
- Hale, Philip L. Jan Vermeer of Delft. Boston, 1913: 238, no. 1, 265-267, 350-351, 369, 373, repro.
- 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.
- Bode, Wilhelm von. Die Meister der holländischen und vlämischen Malerschulen. 2nd ed. Leipzig, 1919: 86-89, repro.
- Vanzype, Gustave. Jan Vermeer de Delft. Brussels and Paris, 1921: 73, repro.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
- Hausenstein, Wilhelm. "Vermeer van Delft." Das Bild Atlanten zur Kunst 10 (1924): 26, fig. 17.
- Lloyd, David. "The Vermeers in America." International Studio 82 (November 1925): 124, repro. 128.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Loan Exhibition of Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. Exh. cat. Detroit Institute of Arts Detroit, 1925: no. 33, repro.
- Ricci, Seymour de. "Le quarante-et-unième Vermeer." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 69 (1927): 306.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. "Pieter de Hooch, Part II." Art in America 15, no. 2 (February 1927): 74.
- Lucas, Edward Verrall. Vermeer the Magical. London, 1929: 28-29, repro.
- 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.
- Frankfurter, Alfred M. "Art in the Century of Progress." The Fine Arts 20, no. 2 (June 1933): repro. 24.
- Rich, Daniel Catton, ed. A Century of Progress: Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture. Exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago,1933: 13, no. 80.
- Tietze, Hans. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935: 187, 337, repro. .
- Hale, Philip Leslie. Vermeer. Edited by Frederick W. Coburn and Ralph T. Hale. Boston and New York, 1937: 140-142, pl. 27.
- 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.
- Plietzsch, Eduard. Vermeer van Delft. Munich, 1939: 31, 56, 58, no. 9, pl. 36.
- Tietze, Hans. Masterpieces of European Painting in America. New York, 1939: no. 187, repro.
- Vries, Ary Bob de. Jan Vermeer van Delft. Bibliotheek der Nederlandsche Kunst. Amsterdam, 1939: 46, 58, 76, 86-87, no. 23, pl. 48.
- Goldscheider, Ludwig. The Paintings of Jan Vermeer. Oxford and New York, 1940: 13, pl. 33.
- National Gallery of Art. Works of art from the Widener collection. Washington, 1942: 7, no. 693, as A Woman Weighing Gold.
- 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.
- Vries, Ary Bob de. Jan Vermeer van Delft. Basel, 1945: 56-57, 114-115, no. 23, pl. 49.
- Blum, André. Vermeer et Thoré-Bürger. Geneva, 1946: 30, 42, 60, 135, 171-172, no. 27.
- National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Washington, 1948: 65, repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
- 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.
- Thienen, Frithjof van. Jan Vermeer of Delft. Masters of Painting. New York, 1949: 19, 23, no. 23, repro.
- 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.
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- Gowing, Lawrence. Vermeer. London, 1952: 44, 53, 135-136, pls. 44-46.
- Malraux, André, ed. Vermeer de Delft. Paris, 1952: 16, repro., 62, no. xii, color repro.
- Bloch, Vitale. Tutta la Pittura di Vermeer di Delft. Milan, 1954: 21, 33, pls. 38, 39 (detail) .
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 44, color repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
- 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.
- Goldscheider, Ludwig. Jan Vermeer: The Paintings. London, 1958: 22, 138, no. 21, pl. 51, color pl. 52.
- National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Reprint. Washington, DC, 1959: 65, repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Gimpel, René. Journal d'un collectionneur, marchand de tableaux. Paris, 1963: 234, 415.
- 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.
- National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 135, as A Woman Weighing Gold.
- 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.
- Descargues, Pierre. Vermeer. Translated by James Emmons. Geneva, 1966: 93, 131, color repros. 87, 92.
- 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.
- Bianconi, Piero. The Complete Paintings of Vermeer. New York, 1967: 92, no. 24, color pl. xix.
- Koningsberger, Hans. The World of Vermeer 1632-1675. New York, 1967: 148, 152, 153, color repro.
- 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.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 122, repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
- Walicki, Michal. Jan Vermeer van Delft. Dresden, 1970: 32-37, fig. 49.
- Carstensen, Richard, and Marielene Putscher. "Ein Bild von Vermeer in medizinhistorischen Sicht." Deutsches Ärzteblatt-Ärtzliche Mitteilungen 68 (December 1971): 1-6, repro.
- Kahr, Madlyn Millner. "Vermeer's Girl Asleep." Metropolitan Museum Journal 6 (1972): 129 n. 29.
- Finley, David Edward. A Standard of Excellence: Andrew W. Mellon Founds the National Gallery of Art at Washington. Washington, 1973: 93, 96 repro.
- Mistler, Jean. Vermeer. Collection Le Peintre et l’Homme. Paris, 1973: no. 19, repro.
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- Grimme, Ernst Günther. Jan Vermeer van Delft. Cologne, 1974: 54, no. 17, figs. 11, 12 (detail).
- Blankert, Albert. Johannes Vermeer van Delft, 1632-1675. Utrecht, 1975: 62-64, 82, 149-150, no. 15, color repro.
- Dudok van Heel, S. A. C. . "De Kunstverzamelingen van Lennep met de Arundeltekeningen." Amstelodamum 67 (1975): 162.
- National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 362, repro., as A Woman Weighing Gold.
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- Harbison, Craig. "Reformation Iconography: Problems and Attitudes." Print Review (Tribute to Wolfgang Stechow) 5 (Autumn 1976): 83, fig. 8.
- Wright, Christopher. Vermeer. London, 1976: 13-14, 74, 76, 78, 81, fig. 25.
- Martin, John Rupert. Baroque. London, 1977: 132-133, fig. 99.
- Menzel, Gerhard W. Vermeer. Leipzig, 1977: 48, 56-57, color repro., detail.
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- Blankert, Albert. Vermeer of Delft: Complete Edition of the Paintings. Oxford, 1978: 22, 41-44, 49, 54, 67, 161-162, no. 15, color repro.
- Gemäldegalerie Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Catalogue of Paintings: 13th-18th Century. Translated by Linda B. Parshall. 2nd revised ed. Berlin-Dahlem, 1978: 212.
- 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.
- 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.
- Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 75, pl. 61.
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- Sutton, Peter C. Pieter de Hooch: Complete Edition with a Catalogue Raisonné. Oxford, 1980: 45, 68 n. 37, fig. 32.
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- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Jan Vermeer. New York, 1981: 41-42, 106-109, color pls. 22, 23 (detail).
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- Toman, Rolf. Die Kunst des Barock: Architektur, Skulptur, Malerei. Cologne, 1997: 465, repro.
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- 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.
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- Zeki, Semir. Inner vision: an exploration of art and the brain. Oxford, 1999: 27-29, 28 fig. 4.3.
- Zuffi, Stefano, and Francesca Castria. La peinture baroque. Translated from Italian by Silvia Bonucci and Claude Sophie Mazéas. Paris, 1999: 208-209, color repro.
- Chapman, H. Perry. "Women in Vermeer's Home: Mimesis and ideation." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 51 (2000): 254-257, repro.
- Kallenberg, Kjell, and Gerry Larsson. Människans hälsa: Livsåskådning och personlighet. Stockholm, 2000: cover repro.
- Savedoff, Barbara E. Transforming Images: How Photography Complicates the Picture. Ithaca, 2000: 11-14, repro.
- 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.
- Bal, Mieke. Looking In: The Art of Viewing. Critical voices in art, theory and culture. Amsterdam, 2001: 65-66, repro.
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- Vergara, Alejandro. Vermeer y el interior holandés. Exh. cat. Museo nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2003: 172-173, 254, repro.
- Cabanne, Pierre. Vermeer. Translated by John Tittensor. Paris, 2004: 164, 180, repro.
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- symbols and prefigurations
- symbols of Virgin Mary
- St. Ignatius
- Roman Catholicism
- woman looking in a mirror
- scenes symbolizing vanitas
- Last Judgement
- allegory of time
- jewel box
- pregnant woman
- the rich
- contemplating one's riches
- gold or money
- allegories and emblems
- artist +Otto van Veen
- picture within picture
- temporal relationship