The Art of Justice: Woman Holding a Balance


The Roman goddess of Iustitia (Justice), the blindfolded woman equipped with sword and scales, who impartially delivers human fate in this life and the next, seems almost a timeless figure. And as the image of order in judgment, she is the most universally recognized icon of fair rule and good government. The origins of the goddess and the symbolic use of the scales predate the Roman world, deep in the ancient world, in the Egyptian divinities of Maat and Isis and the myths of the Book of the Dead. The Roman allegory is equally indebted to the Greek deities of Themis and Dike. The continued importance of Roman law in the modern world is incontestable, while in contrast, the allegorical figure of Justice which characteristically still adorns public buildings and courthouses, does not feature strongly in contemporary iconography. To encounter the image of Justice as a modern virtue, this paper looks to Dutch painting of the seventeenth century, to Johannes Vermeer's work, Woman Holding a Balance. His composition places the solitary young woman, who weighs gold on a delicate set of scales, between the viewer and the backdrop, a painting within a painting of the Last Judgment. This discussion explores the persona in her activity through a range of iconographic schema that resonates on also ritualistic and philosophical levels. Is Vermeer's Woman Holding a Balance the first modern figure of Justice?

Author Information
Elisabeth Stoney, Zayed University, United Arab Emirates

Paper Information
Conference: IICAHDubai2016
Stream: Arts - Visual Arts Practices

This paper is part of the IICAHDubai2016 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon