The Virtues of Vermeer’s Light

Woman Holding a Balance - Johannes Vermeer
Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664 by Vermeer

Did you ever think about the virtues of Vermeer’s light? I once had a painting teacher who had us examine Johannes Vermeer’s painting, “Woman Holding a Balance”  c.1664.  During his lecture, he pointed to the area where the balance is suspended by the woman’s fingers. He spent much time searching his extensive vocabulary for his next words.   Our teacher believed the entire world was summed up in this one area of the painting. The ratios, and geometry of this seemingly perfect placement of the balance and the fingers was genius.

The captivating part of nearly ever Vermeer painting is what you cannot see but is visible all the time.   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 topics about light quality in paintings.  The diffused natural light causes a devout atmosphere. The arrangement of the balance in the woman’s hands, may ask us to ponder the philosophical balance of our virtues.

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