Johannes Vermeer Paints Woman Holding a Balance

Until recently this painting was best known as The Goldweigher or Girl Weighing Pearls.

Microscopic analysis, however, has revealed the pans of the balance to be empty. The highlight on the pans is not rendered with lead-tin yellow, which is used elsewhere on the canvas to depict gold. Vermeer represented pearls with a thin gray layer topped with a white highlight. The pan highlight is a single layer. In addition, there are no loose pearls on the table that would indicate other pearls waiting to be weighed.

This seemingly trivial analysis as to what is being weighed sheds light on the meaning of the work, for Woman Holding a Balance is overtly allegorical. She is dressed in the traditional blue outfit of Mary, and she is pregnant, which suggests there is a connection with the choice and the Last Judgment depicted in the background.

The woman stands between a depiction of the Last Judgment hung in a heavy black frame, and a table covered with jewelry representing material possessions. The empty scale stresses that she is balancing spiritual rather than material considerations. Vermeer's portrayal does not impart a sense of tension or conflict; the woman exudes serenity. Her self-knowledge is suggested by the mirror on the wall. Therefore, the painting suggests the importance of moderation, self-awareness, and a full understanding of the implications of a final judgment, and what it would be to be the woman who gave birth to it. 1664.

The layer structure of the paint is varied, creating different effects and textures, from thick impasto to thin glazes and scumbles. The edges of forms are rarely hard, but overlap only slightly or do not quite touch, allowing the ground to show through. Almost all areas were painted wet-in-wet. In selected areas of the painting, especially in the blue jacket, a dark, reddish-brown undermodeling is visible, particularly the shaded folds. A gray-green underpaint is found in many shadowed areas. The vanishing point of the composition is visible as a small, white spot on the x-radiograph, to the left of the hand holding the balance. The balance was enlarged, as can be seen in the infrared reflectogram. The ground and paint are in a good state of preservation.