SHEILA TERRY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY SHEILA TERRY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Johannes Vermeer's painting of 1664 centres on a woman holding a balance. The balance is one of the most accurate instruments devised and has been used for centuries employing several weights and measures systems. Traders used balances to identify fraudulent coins from genuine ones. The Apothecaries System, based on the dram or drachm, was used for medical recipes. The dram (equivalent to 3.889g), equals 3 scruples or the smallest unit of 60 grains, one of which weighs 0.0648g. The Troy system was used by jewellers and those involved with precious metals such as gold and silver. The symbolism of the equal-arm balance appears in many forms dating from antiquity - such as in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice who holds a balance in one hand and a sword in the other.
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