Woman Holding a Balance travels to the Rijksmuseum

February 23rd, 2009

Woman Holding a Balance
11 March to 1 June 2009
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Vermeer’s Milkmaid and Woman Holding a Balance will be temporarily reunited in Amsterdam after 300 years. Vermeer devotees will recall that these two paintings were auctioned off there to the same buyer at the Dissius sale of 21 Vermeer paintings in 1696, 21 years after the artist had died.

Both works achieved handsome sums, 175 and 155 guilders respectively, inferior only to the much larger View of Delft at 200. Let’s remember that the average Dutch worker’s wage was something like 500 to 700 guilders per year.

The man who was willing to pay the price, Isaac Roooleuw, a Mennonite merchant, clearly knew what he was getting. He was a painter. However, Roooleuw enjoyed them very little since five years later he was forced to sell them by foreclosure, each to a different buyer.

Although these works are divergent in theme and technique and were made years apart, I can’t think of a more revealing couple in all of Vermeer’s oeuvre. The Milkmaid is the personification of earthly sunlight. The Woman Holding a Balance, on the other hand, possesses a moon-like splendor that when observed directly, eclipses even it own complicated allegorical structure. The viewer has the sensation that it is possible to physically penetrate the space of picture’s crystal-clear penumbra had it not been for the sacral figure of the young woman who waits for her scales to  balance.

I do hope that they will be displayed in close proximity.

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