A Thousand Words

Johannes Vermeer's A Woman Holding a Balance

by Mary Elizabeth Podles

Vermeer's small canvas (c. 1662–1664) depicts a woman in informal dress, morning jacket, and untied linen cap, standing at a table in the corner of a room. On the wall in front of her are a curtained window and a mirror, and on the wall behind her hangs a painting. She rests one hand on a table; the tabletop supports a rumpled cover and a jewelry box, out of which spill strings of pearls and gold. In her right hand she holds a pair of scales.

All the compositional elements of the picture direct our attention to that hand: it is at the geometrical center of the picture; . . .

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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.

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