Johannes Vermeer, “Woman Holding a Balance”, c. 1664. © National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

MUNICH.- The Alte Pinakothek welcomes a very special guest to its 175th anniversary: Johannes Vermeer’s “Woman Holding a Balance” from the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The exhibition is on display until June 16, 2011. In the early 19th century, this exquisite masterpiece once formed part of the exceptional private collection amassed by the first king of Bavaria, Max I Joseph (1756-1825). He focused almost exclusively on 17th-century Dutch masters, mostly landscapes and genre paintings. To these he added the works of contemporary painters in Munich who were inspired by such Old Masters. In 1826, one year after the death of Max Joseph, the private royal collection was sold at auction. Some exceptional works were acquired for the state collections; others found their way to the Alte Pinakothek via roundabout routes – as part of Ludwig I’s collection, for example; many are now scattered far afield. From today’s point of view, the greatest loss was Vermeer’s painting of 1664.

The special appeal of Vermeer’s paintings is not to be found in the seemingly everyday scenes frequently depicted, but much more in the atmosphere that these pictures exude. Seldom, however, is the tranquility so often conjured up in the works of the Master of Delft so manifestly transposed through the motif as in this work, which focuses on the moment when the pretty young woman pauses, concentrating fully on adjusting the balance. What is actually happening is less to be found in a visible deed but rather in the figure itself. The depiction becomes an allegory to meditation and reflection on a just and temperate life – literally against the background of the admonition in the “Last Judgment” that is shown as a painting within a painting. The carefully thought-out iconocraphic programme, the gentle brushwork, the effective use of light and not least of all the masterly blend of colour values make “Woman Holding a Balance” a major work within Vermeer’s œuvre and, beyond this, one of the most important 17th-century genre paintings in existence.

Surrounded by a good twenty other exceptional paintings from the “Golden Age” of Dutch painting, including works by Jacob van Ruisdael, Paulus Potter, Willem van de Velde the Younger and Philips Wouwerman, the Vermeer painting gives visitors the opportunity to discover Max I Joseph of Bavaria as a collector of Old Masters for a period of several weeks from March onwards.