Scales as a Symbol of Metaphysical Judgement – from Misterium Tremendum to Misterium Fascinosum. The Analysis of Selected Works of Netherlandish Masters of Painting

Karol Dobrzeniecki


The aim of this article is to analyze the motif of scales in Netherlandish art from the 15th to the 17th century. The motif of scales was present in art from earliest times, but its role and function differed in various historical epochs – antique, the middle ages, and the modern age. The core part of the article is devoted to the symbolic relationship between scales and different aspects of justice. The first painting taken into consideration is Rogier van der Weyden’s Last Judgment (approx. 1445 to 1450), and the last one – Jan Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance (approx. 1662-1663). The article attempts to answer some crucial questions. What were the meanings attributed to scales during the two centuries examined? How did these meanings evolve, and was the interpretation of the symbol influenced by the ethos characteristic for particular periods and geographical spaces, as well as transient fashions, religious and political changes? The article presents paintings selected during the query into Netherlandish art, along with a discussion on their content and information about their creators. It analyzes the symbol of scales in the context of images created by the masters of Netherlandish painting and offers a synthesis of the observed changes in the perception of scales as a symbol during the period discussed.

Słowa kluczowe

symbol of scales, justice, Last Judgment, Netherlandish painting

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