A Woman Holding a Balance
Washington, National Gallery
A woman in a fur-trimmed coat stands in front of a table, spread with jewelry, holding a balance. Microscopic analysis reveals that the scales are empty..
Behind the woman, framing her head, is a large painting of The Last Judgment: a weighing of souls. On the wall in front of the woman is a mirror: she is not weighing jewelry here, she is weighing the meaning of her own actions. She is weighing a decision that she must make, choosing between the eternal, spiritual path (the painting on the wall), and the material, sparkling path (the jewels on the table). The composition reinforces this idea: her hand is at the corner of the Last Judgment, and the balance makes the connection to the table of jewels.
She waits for the balance pans to settle, caught by the diffuse light from the window which highlights her white clothes, her face and hands. The rest of the room is dark, enclosing the woman in her quiet moment of reflection.