Art history and appreciation

Art History And Appreciation: Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance

Description of the Subject Matter

            The “Woman Holding a Balance” painted by Johannes Vermeer around c. 1662- 1665 which portrays a beautiful woman gently holding a balance. Recently it has been also called as the “Goldweigher” or “Girl Weighing Pearls” as many assumed that the woman was weighing gold or pearls. The artist inspiration for the painting was derived from well established iconographic traditions and consequently from the influence of fellow genre painters. The “Goldweigher” by Pieter de Hoogh for example have close resemblance to Vermeer’s work. Vermeer’s scholars believed that the model in the painting was perhaps the most beautiful of his models. The lady appears to be pregnant but some believed it was an illusion brought the garments of padded and bulky skirts which were a Dutch fashion in the mid-17th. Some Vermeer scholars believe that Vermeer’s wife Catharina posed more than once and may be a candidate for this picture or could be other close family members that could pose for long hours as subject for the painting.

Analysis of Composition

            The “Woman Holding a Balance” featured Vermeer’s subtle compositional refinement. It effectively displays the coordination of the theme and emotional setting of the painting. The geometry of shapes and design was pervasive yet unobtrusive. The interplay of verticals and horizontals against the diagonals, mass against void and light against darkness create a balance but subtly dynamic composition. The geometrical center of the painting falls very near the upheld hand of the young woman, almost at the pivot of the balance, the painting’s thematic heart. Moreover the vanishing point of the works perspective system which is derived by extending the converging orthogonal of the table, mirror and floor tiles falls very near the same point thus the scale was  the thematic center that balance the geometric and the perspectives of the entire painting.

Interpretation: Symbols and Meanings

            Many generally accepted the symbolical meanings of this painting. The woman holding a balance conveys different meanings. The light, mirror, pearls, scale the painting of the last judgment and the woman has symbolical meanings and can be interpreted in different ways. The light is associated with spiritual enlightenment in different works of art. Mirror signifies vanity or even self-knowledge. The pearls represent and associated with vanity and purity. The scale traditionally signifies justice while the woman’s serene face resembles that of the face of the Virgin Mary. The painting of the last judgment on the background was also related as it portrays the weighing of souls. By connecting all the objects found in this art one can interpret the message of the painting. It has a spiritual message and it symbolizes man’s need to balance material and spiritual matters. The scale reminded people to balance their material possessions, be God fearing and have contentment and satisfaction in life.


            Visual elements of the art like the lines shows complex interplay between verticals and horizontals. The objects and negative spaces together with the light and shadow resulted in a strongly balanced and active composition. The scales are balanced but dynamically asymmetrical. This scale is the center of interest for the painting.

            There is strong balance and harmony in the object and the colors of the whole artwork. Vermeer maintained extraordinary control and technique over his paints, working effectively with both dense impastos and thin glazes. The effect of soft light is achieved through subtle modulations in paint handling. Under high magnification, we can analyze how Vermeer represented light on different surfaces.

The artist was able to create symbolism in his work and organize the elements giving unity and depth to the painting. This art is an example of a finest works of the artist hand. He constructed his creation with extreme care to put the precise elements and details in that art.


Janson, J. (2008) “Woman Holding A Balance: An Interactive Analysis.” Retrieved October 16, 2008, from

“Johannes Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance.” (2008). National Gallery Of Art, Washington, DC. Retrieved October 15, 2008, from

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