Advent - Johannes Vermeer: Woman with Balance
Johannes Vermeer: Woman Holding a Balance
A Responsible Woman
by André Herren
I love this still and pensive woman who holds a balance in her hands in perfect equilibrium. Behind her, partly covered, we see a painting of the Last Judgment, entirely rendered in accordance with tradition based on Matthew 25:31-46. It is entirely remarkable that this woman takes in the place on the painting, where usually the Archangel Michael is situated as the executor of the judgment, often also with a pair of scales in his hand. Right above the woman’s head Christ sits enthroned. He seems to bless her and also us, the viewers. To me he does not look as an implacable judge, but rather as the Lord who promises us his loving presence, every day, until the end of the world (Matthew 28:20).
This young woman is focused full of concentration on the balance. She radiates an inner peace and balance. When you look closely, you will see that the disks of the scales are empty. Therefore she cannot be labelled – as some do – as a woman bent on jewels and richness or as a personification of vanity. The scales rather show that she is in control of her life and that she is aware of her own responsibility. She thus does not exemplify humanity living in fear of the future and the Last Judgment. Relieved of this worry, she can focus on the present. She is pregnant and the child growing within her symbolises a future that no-one can take away from her. She will receive life just as she will receive her child.
The mirror on the wall opposite the woman possibly symbolizes her self-knowledge. Because of this insight into herself she can live a responsible life before her Lord, weigh her actions and respond in her own way to the commandment of love. She can comply with everything Matthew 25 talks about in connection with the coming judgment. She can open the door for whoever is hungry or thirsty, for the sick and the prisoner.
A mature woman modestly and moderately taking responsibility for her life before God, that is the model the painting presents to us for our consideration. Quite a programme!
Johannes Vermeer: Woman Holding a Balance, 1662-1664, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA.
Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) was a Dutch painter. He was born in Delft and stayed there all his life. Vermeer was buried in the Old Church (Oude Kerk) in Delft. His paintings are admired for their transparent colours, well thought-out composition and brilliant use of light. Little is known about his life. He married Catharina Bolenes in 1653 and converted at this occasion to the Catholic faith of his wife. In that same year he joined the Saint Luke painters guild. In 1662 and 1669 he was chosen to preside over the guild. Vermeer earned a meagre income as an art dealer rather than through selling his own paintings. Sometimes he even had to pay his debts to local food stores with a painting. He died very poor. After his death he was soon forgotten. Vermeer was recognized only in the later 19th century as a great artist. Only 35 to 40 works are attributed to him. Vermeer painted mostly genre pieces and portraits. As an exception he left us also two city views. His works carry religious connotations that are frequently overlooked today.
This meditation is translated from the book by André Herren: Le Jugement dernier en procès, 2011, Editions Ouverture, en Budron H20, 1052 Le Mont-sur-Lausanne, Switzerland and Editions Olivetan, B.P. 4464, 69241 Lyon, France. For more information, click here
André Herren worked in a chemical laboratory before studying theology in Geneva and Göttingen. He has worked as a pastor with Mouvement d'Action Rurale (MAR) in Wanquetin in northeastern France for the Reformed Church of France as well as in and near Geneva, Switzerland. He has taught for the Protestant Church of Geneva at the Ecumenical Studio of Theology (Atelier Œcuménique de Théologie) for 30 years, while also serving as its co-director for 8 years.
ArtWay Visual Meditation December 2, 2012
For more resources for this time of the year (Advent, Christmas and Epiphany), click here
More:- April 2023: Year A, Proper 17
- February 2023: Lent: James Janknegt: The Rich Man and Lazarus
- November 2022: Christmas - Brian Kershisnik: Nativity
- October 2022: Reformation Day: Luther and Durer
- June 2022: Michaelmas, September 29
- March 2022: Lent
- January 2022: The Speck and the Log
- November 2021: Advent - Care for the Earth
- September 2021: Year B, Proper 25
- May 2021: Year B, Proper 18 (Revised Common Lectionary)
- April 2021: Tim Rollins and K.O.S.: Seven Last Words of Christ
- February 2021: Year B, Lent 6: The Ointment of Nard by Arcabas
- January 2021: Year B, Epiphany 8
- December 2020: Advent: Butterfly
- August 2020: Year A, 21st Sunday after Pentecost: Psalm 1
- June 2020: A Year, 10th Sunday of the Summer
- May 2020: Pentecost: Donna Shasteen
- April 2020: The Scene in the Kitchen; Christ at Emmaus
- March 2020: The Seven Last Words of Christ
- January 2020: Year A, Epiphany 3
- November 2019: Edward Hicks: The Peaceable Kingdom
- October 2019: Reformation Day: Luther and Durer
- August 2019: Ordinary Time
- March 2019: Aaron Douglas & James Johnson: Listen Lord
- January 2019: The Speck and the Log
- December 2018: Botticelli: Madonna and Child, with Saints
- November 2018: Gor Chahal and Jan Krist
- August 2018: Year A, Autumn Sunday 8, Parable of the Talents
- May 2018: Ernst Barlach: The Believer
- March 2018: Easter: Grid Buster
- March 2018: Good Friday: I am Thirsty
- February 2018: Lent: The Rich Man and Lazarus
- January 2018: Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year B
- September 2017: A year, 6th Sunday of the Autumn
- August 2017: A Year, 10th Sunday of the Summer
- May 2017: Pentecost: Images for the Holy Spirit
- April 2017: Fra Angelico: Christ in Limbo
- February 2017: Roger Wagner: Lazarus (Psalm 49)
- January 2017: Gislebertus: The Dream of the Three Kings
- November 2016: Advent: Butterfly
- November 2016: Reformation Day: Luther and Durer
- September 2016: Reformation Day: Luther and Durer
- January 2016: 25 January - Caravaggio: The Conversion of Saul
- December 2015: Meditating on the Life of Christ
- November 2015: Gor Chahal and Jan Krist
- October 2015: Reformation Day: Luther and Durer
- August 2015: Ordinary Time
- June 2015: Van Gogh: The Sower
- February 2015: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
- December 2010: Advent - Until He Comes!