The Virtues of Vermeer’s Light

Woman Holding a Balance - Johannes Vermeer
Woman Holding a Balance – Vermeer

I once had a painting teacher who had us examine Johannes Vermeer’s painting, “Woman Holding a Balance”  c.1664.  During the lecture he came to the area where the balance is suspended by the woman’s fingers, and he spent much time searching his extensive vocabulary for his next words.   For him, the entire world was summed up in the ratios, and geometry of this seemingly perfect placement of the balance and the fingers.

The extra captivating part of this composition is what you cannot see but is visible all the time.   Of course, it is the way Vermeer could capture the soft light of the interiors he painted.  His contemplative cast of northern light, infusing the atmosphere is as much an essential element in the painting as the tangible objects are.

Looking at and discussing his work lends well to the topic about qualities of light in paintings.  The diffused natural light causing a devout atmosphere, coupled with the arrangement of the balance in the woman’s hands, may ask us to ponder, among other things,  the philosophical balance of our virtues.


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