Nota bene, George Langbroek

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Nota bene


JAN VERMEER (1632-1675)

Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1660

Oil on canvas, 16.50 X 13.75 inches

This painting intrigued me the most because of the richness of its symbolic imagery:  the quality of the sparse light from the window, the painting of the last judgment as a background, a young woman who is pregnant.  She is obviously quite wealthy with a number of strings of pearls and pieces of gold, which she weighs.  What attracts me to this painting is the poetic questions that Vermeer poses without trying to prescribe hard and fast answers.  All elements of the picture convey a balanced and dynamic mystery.  One commentator said, “The truth of life could be seen only in the shadow of death; living and dying were simultaneous and inseparable.” My emphasis diverges from Vermeer.  I emphasis the purpose of God’s good creation, the fall of Adam and Eve, and God’s good “light” streaming through the window signifying Christ’s redemption.

The young woman is nude because the body is the most beautiful object God has created:

She is pregnant with meaning and new life

She is Eve, Mary and all mothers of children

She is weighing earthly possessions

She has a pitcher of cold water at the ready

Her window to the world is open

There is a book on her table (don’t rely on your own wisdom) Is it the Bible?

The title Nota bene is Latin meaning “mark well, take notice, verify, verify.”  This is an expletive used in regular Dutch conversation, e.g. she is “nota bene” pregnant and doesn’t know who the father is. The bottom portion of the print is literally a “foot note” implying a child’s foot being taught to walk by an adult, and, also, the word “bene” of the title means “leg” in Dutch. By the way, I found a reproduction of this painting in three different catalogues with a different title in each.

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