Woman Holding a Balance

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A Woman Holding a Balance
Johannes Vermeer - Woman Holding a Balance - Google Art Project.jpg
Artist Johannes Vermeer
Year 1662–1663
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 42.5 cm× 38 cm(16.7 in× 15 in)
Location National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Woman Holding a Balance, also called Woman Testing a Balance, is an oil painting by Dutch Golden Age artist Johannes Vermeer.

Oil painting process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil

Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments with a medium of drying oil as the binder. Commonly used drying oils include linseed oil, poppy seed oil, walnut oil, and safflower oil. The choice of oil imparts a range of properties to the oil paint, such as the amount of yellowing or drying time. Certain differences, depending on the oil, are also visible in the sheen of the paints. An artist might use several different oils in the same painting depending on specific pigments and effects desired. The paints themselves also develop a particular consistency depending on the medium. The oil may be boiled with a resin, such as pine resin or frankincense, to create a varnish prized for its body and gloss.

Dutch Golden Age painting

Dutch Golden Age painting is the painting of the Dutch Golden Age, a period in Dutch history roughly spanning the 17th century, during and after the later part of the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) for Dutch independence.

Johannes Vermeer 17th-century Dutch painter

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime but evidently was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.

Contents

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.

Theme

In the painting, Vermeer has depicted a young woman holding an empty balance before a table on which stands an open jewelry box, the pearls and gold within spilling over. A blue cloth rests in the left foreground, beneath a mirror, and a window to the left — unseen save its golden curtain — provides light. Behind the woman is a painting of the Last Judgment featuring Christ with raised, outstretched hands. [1] The woman may have been modeled on Vermeer's wife, Catharina Vermeer. [2]

Last Judgment religious event

The Last Judgment or The Day of the Lord is part of the eschatological world view of the Abrahamic religions and in the Frashokereti of Zoroastrianism.

According to Robert Huerta in Vermeer and Plato: Painting the Ideal (2005), the image has been variously "interpreted as a vanitas painting, as a representation of divine truth or justice, as a religious meditative aid, and as an incitement to lead a balanced, thoughtful life." [3] Some viewers have imagined the woman is weighing her valuables, while others compare her actions to Christ's, reading parable into the pearls. [1] Some art critics, including John Michael Montias who describes her as "symbolically weighing unborn souls", have seen the woman as a figure of Mary. [4] [5] To some critics who perceive her as measuring her valuables, the juxtaposition with the final judgment suggests that the woman should be focusing on the treasures of Heaven rather than those of Earth. [6] In this perspective, the mirror on the wall may reinforce the vanity of her pursuits. [7]

Vanitas type of symbolic work of art

A vanitas is a symbolic work of art showing the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death, often contrasting symbols of wealth and symbols of ephemerality and death. Best-known are vanitas still lifes, a common genre in Netherlandish art of the 16th and 17th centuries; they have also been created at other times and in other media and genres.

Parable of the Pearl one of the parables of Jesus: “the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Mt 13:45–46)

The Parable of the Pearl is one of the parables of Jesus. It appears in Matthew 13:45-46 and illustrates the great value of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the penultimate parable in Matthew 13, just before the Parable of the Dragnet.

John Michael Montias was an economist and art historian, well known for his contributions to the economic history of Dutch Golden Age painting. Born in Paris, he studied at Columbia University, where he received his Ph.D in Soviet bloc economics in 1958. He subsequently taught economics at Yale University. He published studies on Polish and Romanian economics, and, in 1977, the book Structure of Economic Systems.

History

Completed in 1662 or 1663, the painting was previously called Woman Weighing Gold before microscopic evaluation confirms that the balance in her hands is empty. [3] [8] The painting was among the large collection of Vermeer works sold on May 16, 1696 in Amsterdam from the estate of Jacob Dissius (1653–1695). [9] It received 155 guilders, considerably above the prices fetched at the time for his Girl Asleep at a Table (62) and The Officer and the Laughing Girl (approximately 44), but somewhat below The Milkmaid (177). [10]

Jacob Abrahamsz. Dissius was a Dutch typographer and printer. He is most notable as an art collector and for his links to Johannes Vermeer - his collection included 21 Vermeer works and in 1680 he married Madgdalene, daughter and sole heir of Vermeer's main patron Pieter van Ruijven. Dissius died in 1695 and his collection was auctioned off in Amsterdam the following year.

<i>Officer and Laughing Girl</i> 17th-century painting by Johannes Vermeer

Officer and Laughing Girl, also known as Officer and a Laughing Girl, Officer With a Laughing Girl or De Soldaat en het Lachende Meisje, was painted by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer between 1655 and 1660. It was painted in oil on canvas, typical of most Dutch artists of the time, and is 50.5 by 46 cm. It now resides in The Frick Collection in New York.

<i>The Milkmaid</i> (Vermeer) 1658 painting by Johannes Vermeer

The Milkmaid, sometimes called The Kitchen Maid, is an oil-on-canvas painting of a "milkmaid", in fact, a domestic kitchen maid, by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. It is now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, which regards it as "unquestionably one of the museum's finest attractions".

Painting materials

The first pigment analysis of this painting by Hermann Kühn [11] revealed the use of ultramarine for the blue tablecloth and lead white for the grey wall. The pigment in the bright yellow curtain was identified as indian yellow. The subsequent technical investigations of the painting by Robert L. Feller (1974) and M.E. Gifford (1994) [12] have shown that the painting had been extended by approximately five centimetre on every side at a much later date. The sample investigated by H. Kühn in 1968 was unfortunately taken from this extension. The proper pigment of the yellow curtain is lead-tin-yellow. The full pigment analysis according to the latest data is illustrated at Colourlex. [13]

Ultramarine A deep blue color pigment which was originally made with ground lapis lazuli

Ultramarine is a deep blue color pigment which was originally made by grinding lapis lazuli into a powder. The name comes from the Latin ultramarinus, literally "beyond the sea", because the pigment was imported into Europe from mines in Afghanistan by Italian traders during the 14th and 15th centuries.

Indian yellow yellow pigment

Indian yellow is a complex pigment consisting primarily of euxanthic acid salts, euxanthone and sulphonated euxanthone. It was also known as purree, snowshoe yellow, gaugoli, gogili, Hardwari peori, Monghyr puri, peoli, peori, peri rung, pioury, piuri, purrea arabica, pwree, jaune indien, Indischgelb (German), yin du huang (Chinese), giallo indiano (Italian), amarillo indio (Spanish).

Lead-tin-yellow is a yellow pigment, of historical importance in oil painting, also known as the "Yellow of the Old Masters".

Notes

  1. 1 2 Huerta (2005), p. 54.
  2. Walther and Suckale (2002), p. 332.
  3. 1 2 Huerta (2005), p. 85
  4. Montias (1991), p. 191.
  5. Kenner (2006), p. 56.
  6. Roskill (1989), p. 148.
  7. Carroll and Stewart (2003), p. 61.
  8. Montias (1991), p. 162.
  9. Montias (1991), p. 182, 256.
  10. Montias (1991), p. 182.
  11. Kühn, H. A Study of the Pigments and Grounds Used by Jan Vermeer. Reports and Studies in the History of Art, 1968, 154–202.
  12. Gifford, E.M., Painting Light: Recent Observations on Vermeer’s Technique, in Gaskell, I. and Jonker, M., ed., Vermeer Studies, in Studies in the History of Art, 55, National Gallery of Art, Washington 1998, pp. 185-199
  13. Johannes Vermeer, 'Woman Holding a Balance', Colourlex

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References

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