Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664; Oil on canvas, 40.3 x 35.6 cm; National Gallery of Art, Washington

The empty scale stresses that she is balancing spiritual rather than material considerations. Vermeer’s portrayal does not impart a sense of tension or conflict, rather the woman exudes serenity. Her self-knowledge is reflected in the mirror on the wall. Vermeer’s point is that we should lead lives of moderation with full understanding of the implications of a final judgment.

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