Truth and Illusion in Painting / by Jennifer Davey

Jan Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664, 15 x 16 3/4 in.  National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Jan Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664, 15 x 16 3/4 in.  National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

I have been studying the painting Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664 by Jan Vermeer.  At a mere 15 x 16 3/4 in., this painting packs a punch.  I am currently working on a series of paintings exploring perception and the veils that often obscure my seeing.  As a part of this research, I am investigating the inner compass and our conscience.  I immediately thought to look at this stunning Vermeer painting as an expression of this inner conscience.  It holds an exquisite spiritual and pictoral balance.  At first glance, the woman is weighing her family gold.  However the painting is rich with religious symbolism that speaks of this inner center and spiritual balance that any human has the potential to experience.  Her mere presence speaks of silent serenity.  She is dressed in a simple white veil and a blue coat, reminiscent of the colors and images so often used to depict Mary.  The painting is dark and quiet, save one subtle beam of light from a curtained window that shines down on her pregnant belly, alluding to the idea of the annunciation.  Both also are in a yellow gold, which immediately makes me think of golden light/Christ consciousness.  Above her is a picture of a version of The Last judgment, where the picture reflects the souls of the damned, in flat monochoromatic, chaos as a back drop to this quietly alive woman.  The jewlels on the table, pearls and gold, are mere daubs of light, metaphorical reflecting the jewels of the spirit along with depicting their physical value.  The balance itself is also so delicate it almost dissapears.  She gracefully and steadyliy holds this balance and the viewer is reminded of the similar weighing going on behind her.  

There is also a wonderful interplay of light between dark and light, which seems almost perfectly divided into four squares with the woman's hand holding the center point in the painting.  It seems the more I look, the more I see.  I have begun to draw this image and although I have much to learn, I am always amazed at what copying a drawing will teach you.  I'm excited to see how this painting will influence my own painting.  This painting creates a powerful, illusional space, one that you feel you could walk into.  And yet, through this illusion, Vermeer points to eternal truths.  This is why I love painting!  

Beckett, Sister Wendy, The Story of Painting.  London; Dorling Kindersley, 1994. Book.