The Baroque art of the Catholic church, developed over the decades following the Council of Trent, though the extent to which this was an influence on it is a matter of debate, certainly met most of the Council's requirements, especially in the earlier, simpler phases associated with the Carracci and Caravaggio, who nonetheless met with clerical opposition over the realism of his sacred figures. Subjects were shown in a direct and dramatic fashion, with relatively few abstruse allusions. Choice of subjects was widened considerably, as Baroque artists delighted in finding new biblical episodes and dramatic moments from the lives of saints. As the movement continued into the 17th century simplicity and realism tended to reduce, more slowly in Spain and France, but the drama remained, produced by the depiction of extreme moments, dramatic movement, colour and chiaroscuro lighting, and if necessary hosts of agitated cherubs and swirling clouds, all intended to overwhelm the worshipper. Architecture and sculpture aimed for the same effects; Bernini (1598–1680) epitomises the Baroque style in those arts. Baroque art spread across Catholic Europe and into the overseas missions of Asia and the Americas, promoted by the Jesuits and Franciscans.

Holland (or the Low Lands) had succeeded in breaking away from Catholic Spain’s domination in the late sixteenth century. One important result was that most of Holland embraced Protestantism, and with the exception of a few cities like Utrecht, the effect in Dutch art was the elimination of most religious and mythological themes. Dutch seventeenth century painting tends to be more conservative than that of other European countries, focusing on the land and the pastimes of the Dutch people who were an increasingly prosperous merchant middle class.

Dutch artists depicted their world in direct portraits, realistic still lifes, landscapes, marine scapes, and genre paintings showing scenes of everyday life. However, some Dutch artists like Gerrit van Honthorst and Hendrick Terbrugghen came under the strong influence of the Italian painter Caravaggio. These painters favored dramatic, emotion-filled or colorful subjects and used Caravaggio’s theatrical lighting. Other artists followed the example set by the Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn whose psychological explorations of the human spirit and emotion brought new depths of expression to painting. Art became an essential means of sharing the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the truth of God's Word.

God uses religious artwork to portray the light and beauty of truth as contrasted to the darkness of paganism. When the life of the artist is not in right standing with God, there is frequently a mixture, which scripture refers to as "Belial." Always the standard by which things are measured is God's Word. Truth may be observed not only seen in the routines of everyday life, but primarily the very foundation of that eternal life which is spoken of in God's holy word is the scriptures themselves, and not man-made tradition. Artists who painted during times of religious persecution frequently painted in symbols which were familiar to the people of their day. Johannes Vermeer’s painting "Woman Holding a Balance," was painted in 1664, during what is termed the Baroque period. Seemingly lost in thought the subject of the painting, a young woman, pauses momentarily to adjust her balance prior to weighing that which is of value to her.

Behind the woman is a scene of the Last Judgment. The work speaks of mankinds actions being weighed in light of eternal rewards. The painting was once entitled "Woman weighing gold," or "Woman weighing pearls. Woman in scripture typifies the church. She is holding that by which things are weighed, which in the bible is Christ, himself. The scale pans are empty. This begs the question, why? Or what is being weighed? Vermeer was a messenger who used symbolic meanings. The balance often represents a judgement between good and evil. The large painting on the wall behind the woman represents this weighing on "Judgement Day," when God Himself will assay the works of all men, whether good or evil, and give to each a reward to each according as his work shall be.

1)And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation.
2) There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.
3) Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.

The table speaks of fellowship with the Lord. The woman's table is the Lord's table, and speaks of communion with Christ, which is seen traditionally, and symbolically in the emblems of bread and wine, which are partaken of when believers gather together in the name of the Lord. (1 Cor. 10:21) Here in the communion with Christ, additional elements are in view.

Vermeer portrays the woman as she appears to him dressed in the costume of the Dutch haute bourgeoisie—plain colors, a simple yet costly kerchief, her collar of the richest fur. She is obviously pregnant, another biblical symbol of the church seen in Rev. 12, where the woman travails to bring forth what the Greek text indicates is a "collective" "manchild," which is neither male nor female, for we are all one in CHrist Jesus. (Romans 8:22, Galatians 3:28) A manchild who is caught up to God and to His throne. (Rev. 12:5) The day of delivery has not yet arrived, but she is obviously expecting. The woman in the painting doesn't ignore the luxuries lying on the table, for these are of value to her, not because they are mere material possessions of the day. They are on her mind as she carefully adjusts her balance.

The Apostle Paul contrasts material wealth with spiritual values in 1 Tim. 2:9, when he speaks of a woman of godly virtue. I want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes," but with the adornment of a meek and a quiet spirit, which is that which God himself has placed great value on. Gold in scripture speaks of God. The Old Testament tabernacle is rich with this symbolism. (Exodus 25:26, 37:16, 1 Chron. 18:11, 22:14, 29:2) For the value of the pearls themselves, we turn to the New Testament, where Jesus Christ is the pearl of great price. (Matt. 13:44-45) Why the many pearls? Christ taught us to that inasmuch as we do it to the least of these, we do it to him. The woman, symbolic of the church here is valuing the human race, seeing their value in the multitude of pearls, in light of eternity. The woman concentrates fully on the balance, in which these pearls will hang. We see the need for proper spiritual focus. The balance in her hand speaks of the fact that there are eternal consequences for ones decisions.

..."Now God commands men everywhere to repent. For he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the grave."(i.e. Christ)(Acts 17:30-31)


Holland had never been stable. The western coastline shifted up to thirty kilometres to the east and storm surges regularly broke through the row of coastal dunes. The Frisian Isles, originally joined to the mainland, became detached islands in the north. The main rivers, the Rhine and the Meuse (Maas), flooded regularly and changed course repeatedly and dramatically.

The people of Holland found themselves living in an unstable, watery environment. Behind the dunes on the coast of the Netherlands a high peat plateau had grown, forming a natural protection against the sea. Much of the area was marsh and bog. By the tenth century the inhabitants set about cultivating this land by draining it. However, the drainage resulted in extreme soil shrinkage, lowering the surface of the land by up to fifteen metres.

Delft potteries were established in many parts of the Netherlands, Amsterdam, Haarlem and Rotterdam, but by the late 17 century Delft had become the most important centre of production and nearly 30 companies were working in the area. The original delft tile designs came about when Chinese porcelain stopped being imported in the mid 17 century and the popular Chinese wares were reproduced in blue and white. This city in which Johannes Vermeer was born is located in between Rotterdam and The Hague. Dating from the 13th century, it owes its name to the word "delving" or the digging of its oldest canal. Oude Delft--the old town--is known worldwide for its tin-glazed earthenware, with blue-and-white or polychrome decoration, first made in the early 17th century at Delft, Holland, which are todays blue and white ceramics.

The town was founded in the eleventh century, grew rich from trade in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and had a population of twenty-five thousand in Vermeer's day. After Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer (also known as Vermeer of Delft or Johannes van der Meer) is considered the second most famous Dutch painter of the 17th century (a period which is better known as the Dutch Golden Age for its astonishing cultural and artistic achievements). Johannes Vermeer was born in 1632, in the city of Delft in The Netherlands. He is also sometimes referred to as Vermeer of Delft or Johannes van der Meer. During his career he used the names Johannes van der Meer, Johannes Vermeer and Jan Vermeer. The exact date of Vermeer's birth is not known, but Johannes Vermeer was born at Voldersgracht 23, next door to the Nieuwe Kerk. Historical records state that he was baptised at the Oude Kerk, Delft's oldest parish church. Founded about 1200, it was gradually replaced by a much larger church. The five characteristic spires of the Oude Kerk (Old Church) tower above the old city centre of Delft. It is the oldest parish church in the city and was originally known as the St Hippolyte Church. He was baptized on the 31st of October, 1632, and raised a Reformed Protestant. Vermeer was his parents second and youngest child.

Jan's father, Reynier Vermeer, described himself as a "caffawercker" (silkworker). Caffa was a kind fine satin widely used for clothes, curtains and furniture-covering. He was trained in Amsterdam in the production of this fine satin fabric. The intricate patterns of the rugs and tapestries, and leather wall coverings that he depicted, may be traced to his exposure to his father's craft. Reynier Vermeer was also an art dealer.

His wife Digna, was from Antwerp, Belgium, born in in 1615. Reynier Vermeer's name actually was Reynier Vos (Fox), but he used the name Van der Meer. Vermeer's father Reynier Jansz indeed rented a house on Voldersgracht [Fuller's Canal] and there he started an inn, named "The Flying Fox". By 1641 the family was sufficiently prosperous to purchase a large house containing an inn, called the "Mechelen," on the market square. His father was probably the person that influenced young Johannes to become an artist.

The Vermeer family purchased a large house near the market square in Delft in 1641. This house, the "Mechelen", was actually an inn that Reynier Vermeer probably used as a place of business in which to sell paintings. Most of the thirty-five or so paintings that now are thought to be Vermeer's creations share the same setting, his parents home. After his father died in 1652, Johannes inherited the Mechelen as well as his father's business, and lived there with his wife, children and a housemaid named Tanneke Everpoel. Christ in the House of Mary and Martha (National Gallery of Scotland

What is known of Vermeer's life is derived from a handful of official documents and comments by his fellow artists. In Delft about a quarter of the population was Catholic. Having been born to Protestant parents and raised in this faith, there is no evidence that Vermeer ever converted to Catholicism, although he married into a Catholic family when he married Catherina Bolnes, a young womana from the so-called Papenhoek, or Papist's Corner, of Delft. The civil ceremony took place on April 23, 1653, and the marriage was celebrated in the Delft city hall. She was from Gouda and five years his senior. The wedding took place in the nearby village of Schipluiden, and it was a good match. His mother-in-law, Maria Thins, was significantly wealthier than he, and it was probably she who insisted Vermeer convert to Catholicism before the marriage on 5 April. Following their marriage, the couple moved in with Catherina's mother, Maria Thins, in 1672. This house is where most of Vermeer's paintings were created and many of their children were born. Housemaid Tanneke Everpoel (model for "The Milkmaid") also lived there in the early 1660's. This house was demolished in the nineteenth century.

Art critics believe that Catharina is the subject of more than one of Vermeer's paintings. Her likeness can be observed in several of her husband Johannes paintings, such as the Reading a Letter by an Open Window, Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, and Woman Holding a Balance.

One of his paintings, The Allegory of Catholic Faith, made between 1670 and 1672, reflects the belief in the Eucharist. Here, the personification of faith takes communion before a scene of the crucifixion of Christ. An apple (signifying original sin) and a snake crushed by a stone (emblematic of the victory of Christ, the cornerstone of the church, over Satan) lie at her feet.Liedtke suggests it was made for a Catholic patron, or for a schuilkerk, "a hidden church." In that same year, Vermeer entered the Delft Guild of Sint Lucas as a painter, joining his father, who had registered with the guild as a picture dealer in 1631. It is not certain where Vermeer was apprenticed as a painter, nor with whom. It is generally believed that he studied in his home town and it is suggested that his teacher was either Carel Fabritius or more likely Leonaert Bramer. It is possible he taught himself or he had information from one or more of his father's business contacts. He entered the painters' guild there in 1653 and was twice, in 1662 and 1669, he was chosen to preside over the guild 'hooftman,' "headman."

The couple had at least 11 children during their 22 years of marriage. His wife gave birth to 14 children: four of whom died, but were registered as "child of Johan Vermeer". Sometimes he even had to pay his debts to local food stores with a painting.

Concerning Vermeer's apprenticeship as an artist, was probably for the customary time, which was from 4-6 years. Some speculate that he may have apprenticed under Leonaert Bramer, a Delft artist who was a witness at Vermeer's marriage in 1653. Or another master painter named Carel Fabritius who lived in Delft. Vermeer completed his art training by the age of twenty-one, and enrolled as a master painter in the Delft Guild of Saint Luke on December 29, 1653. This authorized him to sell his artwork in Delft, to teach art, and to act as an art dealer. The fact of the matter was that an artist was not allowed to market his work unless he was a member of the guild.

In the 1600's, many people could not read or write. They told their stories thru symbols in paintings. This was especially true of artists, writers, poets, and song writers living in times of religious persecution. In Girl With the Pearl Earring, the scriptures portray Christ as the Pearl of Great Price, for which a man would willingly suffer the loss of all things. (matthew 13:46) The pierced ear in the bible depicts the ancient custom of the voluntary servant, who wore an earring as a token of his servitude. The ear was actully pierced through to the door of the house of the master, as a token of his willing position as a servant. "Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; mine ears hast Thou opened (Heb. "digged"." (Psalms 40:6-8-Heb. 10 In this is seen the ancient Hebrew custom of the ear piercing. Today's artist is not limited by the inavailability of the scriptures, but can have a face to face relationship with the Almighty God in Christ. He is invited to "Come boldly before God's throne of grace, to obtain help in time of need."


Almost all of Vermeer's paintings are in house scenes (even the two landscapes that we know are seen from within through a window. A reoccurring characteristic of Vermeer's paintings is his striking use of light, shading and subtle reflections, depicting his subject near a source of light. He painted mainly interior genre subjects, depicting members of aristocratic and upper-middle-class society. About half of these paintings show solitary figures of women absorbed in some ordinary, everyday activity. Vermeer's two town views, the Little Street and View of Delft, have been called "the first plein-air pictures of modern painting." The View of Delft has been in the 20th century one of the most admired of all paintings.

Paintings in 17th century Holland were painted on fine weave linen canvas. Courser weave causes the liquid tofill the spaces between the threads. Once the grisaille underpainting has been suitably completed, it should be allowed to dry. For glazing of fleshtones, a mixture of cadmium red medium and yellow ochre mixed with some of the glazing medium may be used. The more medium you use, the more it dilutes the paint, and reduces the color intensity, just as in water mixed with watercolor paints dilutes color. One oil painting medium recipe is composed of equal parts by weight of linseed oil, pure gum turpentine, and damar varnish. The second glaze layer is being applied over the dried first glaze. This glaze is also composed of cadmium red medium and yellow ochre. A third glaze is now applied to the dried surface of the painting. The intensity of the glaze can be neutralized by adding a little bit of raw umber to the cadmium red medium and yellow ochre. The process of mixing white with the glaze is used to bring back the light areas.< P> Vermeer's chose for his palette, shades of blues, golds, and soft reds predominating, working slowly and with great care, using bright colours, sometimes expensive pigments, with a preference for cornflower blue and yellow. As with the glazes of the skintones, white paint over darker areas is utilized to lighten area of the garments.

Vermeer is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work. He produced transparent colours by adding the paint onto the canvas in loosely granular layers, a technique called pointillé (not to be confused with pointillism). At the time of his death, in his atelier there were two chairs, two painter's easels, three palettes, ten canvases, a desk, an oak pull table and a small wooden cupboard with drawers. Vermeer does not seem to have been as prolific an artist as some, but it's possible that numerous works were lost, destroyed or attributed to other artists. There is no record that he sold any of his works in his lifetime. In an essay by Thoré Burger, 66 pictures were attributed to Vermeer but only 34 paintings are considered to be established works of his today. The economy in the Netherlands in the late 17th century was poor, creating a hardship as far as Vermeer being able to market his work. The painting "Girl In A Red Hat is actually a small work of art, measuring just nine by about seven inches.


In the 1650s an over supply of art negatively impacted the prices, and numerous artists were forced into bankruptcy or other types of employment. With the invasion of the Republic by the French, Vermeer found himself unable to make a living as an art dealer or a painter. The financial pressures upon him as a husband and father to care for a wife and 11 children, contributed to his ill health, and sudden demise. In 1672 a severe economic downturn (the "Year of Disaster") struck the Netherlands. Not only did a French army under Louis XIV invade the Dutch Republic from the south (known as the Franco-Dutch War), but also an English fleet, in the Third Anglo-Dutch War and two allied German bishops attacked the country from the east, trying to destroy its hegemony. Many people panicked, and shops and schools were closed. Some years passed before circumstances improved. The collapse of the art market damaged Vermeer's business as both a painter and an art dealer, as his wife stated later. With a large family to support, Vermeer again was forced to borrow money.

Following her husband's decease in December of 1675, at the age of 43, Catherina Vermeer, who was left to support at least 8 of her 11 children, but her mother was still living and in sufficient health to help her, spoke these words concerning the couples difficulties:

"During the long and ruinous war with France not only had been unable to sell any of his art but also, to his great detriment, was left sitting with the paintings of other masters that he was dealing in. In 1672, a war that began between France and the Netherlands caused a Dutch economic downturn. The art market was severely affected, and Vermeer's career was so damaged that his mother-in-law became his primary source of income.

In December 1675 Vermeer fell into a frenzy and suddenly died, within a day and a half at the age of forty-three. At the time of his death, he left behind 11 children, 10 of which were minors. On April 24 and 30, 1676, Catharina Vermeer filed petitions with Holland's and Zeeland's High Courts to obtain assignment letters to his creditors, invoking the disastrous conditions caused by the war and her husband's decease. The court ruled in her favor. Catharina Bolnes attributed her husband's death to the stress of financial pressures. The collapse of the art market damaged Vermeer's business as both a painter and an art dealer. She, having to raise 11 children, asked the High Court to allow her a break in paying the creditors. as if he had fallen into a frenzy, in a day or day and a half he had gone from being healthy to deceased." His widow had to trade all paintings still in her possession to the city council in return for a small allowance

Following the death of Vermeer, the value of Vermeers paintings was assessed at 500 guilders. In 1677, twenty-one of Vermeer’s estate paintings was sold at the Guild. A baker in Delft also accepted some of Vermeer's work in payment for debts. Catharina Bolnes and her children moved to a small home on the Verwersdijk. Johannes Vermeer was buried in the Old Church (Oude Kerk) in Delft. Catherina Vermeer died in 1687, and the last of her husband's artwork was sold. After his death Vermeer was soon forgotten. His paintings were sometimes sold bearing the name of another painter to raise their value.

During World War II, some of Vermeer's paintings were forged and sold to the Germans. In one case, Han Van Meegeren was arrested after World War II and charged with having sold a Dutch national treasure, in the form of a Vermeer painting, entitled "Christ and the Adulteress," to the Nazi Hermann Göring. Later, Van Meegeren said he actually painted the artwork himself. He was sent to prison for forgery. Johannes Vermeer's paintings were finally collected, exhibited in Holland and placed on tour all around the world.


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Alana Campbell is an artist-illustrator and published writer since 1986 and resides in Washington state with her husband Tom of 22 years. The couple are the parents of six children.

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