Woman Holding a Balance
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Woman Holding a Balance is a pretty typical Vermeer portrait made for the middle-class merchants who were his patrons at the time.

Hence the interior scene, that doesn’t really strike you as profound when you look at it for the first time. In fact, historians have been musing over this one for a while and have come up with multiple theories about what is going on here. That Vermeer, for all his simplicity in domestic settings was hinting at a whole lot more if you begin scratching beneath the symbolic surface.

This silent, still moment appears like a window you’re peering into on the wall of Washington’s National Art Gallery. Another one of Vermeer’s specialties was making paintings seem so real that they looked like real-life scenes happening in another room, which you could gaze into. The boy could paint. But let’s forget his skillz for a moment and get back to figuring out what this Dutch lady is up to. 

Ok, so there’s a lady in a classic 17th century Dutch outfit. Or are her clothes kind of dated? It’s doubtful that the model was actually pregnant. Maybe Vermeer was taking something from van Eyck’s fashion files. Remember the Arnolfini Portrait with the bunched up belly that makes the girl looks preggers​? Is Vermeer so fashion backward that this is what he thinks women are still wearing?? 

She’s also holding a balance, which at the moment is empty. But she’s got some coinage and jewelry stacked up in front of her, which means she could be gearing up to measure that worldly bounty. The “worldly” part is important. Back in 17th century Holland, peeps were traders and merchants and making more cash that way. These were also the guys who commissioned art. So Vermeer may be showing a domestic scene from one such bourgeoisie home, hinting at how painting genres were becoming more secular and less to do with the church. The church had been all the rage in the last few centuries, and that explains all those paintings about Jesus

But now wait just a minute before you go thinking this Vermeer is less than holy. Take a look behind the woman and you’ll see a painting of the Last Judgment featuring JC himself. This cameo of Jesus in the image shows us that a bit of spirituality was on Vermeer’s mind. Maybe he was trying to balance worldly goods and religion. And the woman’s balancing act is echoing the Judgment scene in the background. But then, other historians say that the woman has her back turned to this holy painting and is more engrossed in her material belongings. So maybe Vermeer is hinting that diamonds and pearls distract you from your spiritual side and giving God some love. Mo’ money, mo’ problems, gurl!

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Woman Holding a Balance

Woman Holding a Balance, also called Woman Testing a Balance, is an oil painting by Dutch Golden Age artist Johannes Vermeer, now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

At one time the painting, completed 1662–1663, was known as Woman Weighing Gold, but closer evaluation has determined that the balance in her hand is empty. Opinions on the theme and symbolism of the painting differ, with the woman alternatively viewed as a symbol of holiness or earthliness.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Woman Holding a Balance.