Art and Horror: Vermeer’s Woman with a Balance and The Walking Dead’s “Still”

Wikipedia:
In the painting, Vermeer has depicted a young woman holding an empty balance before a table on which stands an open jewelry box, the pearls and gold within spilling over… "interpreted as a vanitas painting, as a representation of divine truth or justice, as a religious meditative aid, and as an incitement to lead a balanced, thoughtful life."[3] Some viewers have imagined the woman is weighing her valuables, while others compare her actions to Christ's, reading parable into the pearls.[1] Some art critics, including John Michael Montias who describes her as "symbolically weighing unborn souls", have seen the woman as a figure of Mary.[4][5] To some critics who perceive her as measuring her valuables, the juxtaposition with the final judgment suggests that the woman should be focusing on the treasures of Heaven rather than those of Earth.[6] In this perspective, the mirror on the wall may reinforce the vanity of her pursuits.[7]

I know I am making a stretch here trying to connect the painting to the episode, but when Beth is in the bar of the country club, after moving through a sort of hell where a class war went on, there is this stillness. (Daryl, who, while possessing legendary survival skills has little else left after losing his adopted family to a rival group is not in the frame.) In the scene the light is falling across the bar. The light is catching the edges of the bottles and the reflective surfaces, the edges of Beth's arms,  the side of her face that is away from us, gives her a glow. Something about it made me think of Vermeer's "Woman Testing a Balance" (which it is also known by), so much that I had to find the painting and look at it again.

I wasn't disappointed. Vermeer's painting is compositionally beautiful but the interpretation of his painting is so dead on for what this episode was about.

Beth had made the search for her first drink of alcohol a type of quest but in the face of the obvious carnage that went on, the wealth and riches that were now meaningless, and bloody rage that Daryl let loose on the heads of the zombie walkers, she realizes that it has been a fools errand. All her actions were in vain. She starts to cry.

It is precisely when Daryl is moved to help her. The rest of the episode is about him coming back to her and both of them coming to terms with what they have and what they can now let go of, a return of the only type of balance they can know in the Walking Dead: trust in each other.

The episode was directed by Julius Ramsay and written by Angela Kang. Brilliant!

2 thoughts on “Art and Horror: Vermeer’s Woman with a Balance and The Walking Dead’s “Still”

    • Yes! I don’t think I ever read that interpretation and yet it wasn’t only the visuals that made me think of it. So perhaps, it had a subliminal effect on me.

      Thanks for commenting.

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