Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Woman Holding a Balance


This was one of my favorite paintings at the art gallery in DC.... by Johannes Vermeer, a Dutchman from the 1600s.

The painting was known as Girl Weighing Pearls until it was discovered through microscopic analysis that the balance is empty. This was when the picture came to be known as the Woman Holding a Balance, an empty balance. What then was the woman weighing?

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. 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 Final Judgment depicted in the background. 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, rather the woman exudes serenity. Her self-knowledge is reflected in 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.

I noticed that the balance is level...is mine? Most times I feel as though my balance is full of the weight of material considerations. This is why looking in the mirror of our souls is so important. We need self awareness, we need a true image of the desires of our hearts so that we are not deceived. I know I need to look in a spiritual mirror and search my soul.

Let me give you a little background about the artist....poor, 14 children, born Prostestant and baptized in Reformed Church, married a Catholic girl and converted. At age 43 he "went into a frenzy" and died a day or so later. They think it was due to financial stress. His wife sold some of his work to a local baker who had bought other paintings to pay for debt. He was not known outside of his town during his life.

Maybe he painted the image he desired...someone who wasn't constantly focused on material things...Sounds like he never really found balance in his life.

Interestingly, I read Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen on the train ride to DC. It is the story of the author who went into her own frenzy when she was 18 yrs old and ended up institutionalized for several years. The connection? Well, she titled her book after a painting by Johannes Vermeers known as Girl Interrupted During Music Lesson. She saw the painting in NY when she was 17 yrs old and with a male teacher....a year before her life took a major turn.

An artist gone crazy, a young girl gone crazy...a pregnant woman in blue perfectly content. Believe I need to spend a little more time finding balance.

1 comment:

Lynn Cross said...

It sounds to me like the woman knew that she would always find "her" scale empty and out of balance esp. with the last judgement depicted. She is perfectly content, because she knew in herself she was definetly found wanting. But because of Christ alone she was content, because of His righteousness. That is where true contentment is found. What a lovely picture. Thank you for sharing it. Love you forever, Lynn