May 23, 2011
This is a painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, it is supposed to be completed between the years 1670–1671, its dimensions are 72.2 cm × 59.5 cm (28.4 in × 23.4 in), its composition is oil on canvas and now it is in the National Gallery of Ireland.
The work shows a middle-class woman attended by a maid who is acting as Messenger for the lady and the lover. The maid is shown standing in the mid ground, behind her lady, with the hands crusted and waiting for the letter to be finished. The positions of her bodies indicate that the two women are disconnected, moreover, the lady is separated from her lady both emotionally and psychologically. The maid’s gaze towards the window indicates an inner restlessness and boredom, as she waits impatiently for the messenger to carry her lady’s letter away. Nevertheless, there are some art historians who say that the fact that the maid is present during such an intimate act as the composition of a love letter indicates at least a degree of intimacy between the two.
More than once Vermeer thought about the possibility of subverting the hierarchy of the figures’ social position within his compositions. In this case, the maid, who belongs to an inferior social class, stands at the center of the painting placed above her mistress. Vermeer’s figure may have been derived from a work of similar letter theme by painter Gabriel Metsu as she wears a surprisingly similar outfit and fulfills essentially the same role.
The pose of the seated mistress seems to draw inspiration from the Lacemaker as their facial expression is similar. The patch of bright white wall behind her is contrasting her right hand silhouette; however, this bright is illogical considering the fall of light in the rest of the room.
In this painting, there are some usual motifs such as the window frame and the back wall painting, and there are also particular motifs. Let’s begin with the floor, the marble flooring in this painting suggests a quality of bourgeois life rather than any reality, it is an ideal as the Dutch generally preferred floor made of wood like in this image in which appears one of the most influential men of culture in the Netherlands.
This detail is a letter, a stick of sealing wax, a bright red seal, and an object that could be a book or a letter, if it is a letter it may be one that the lady has received or a draft that she rejected, or maybe is a letter not her own and its content was disturbing.
Of the many carpets represented in Vermeer’s paintings, this one is the most abstractly painted. The decorative designs are reduced to a sort of calligraphic shorthand and the knotty texture has been completely erased by an exceptionally smooth, simplified application of paint.
Chairs also appear in a great number of Dutch paintings and many critics think that some of the empty chairs in Vermeer’s paintings may allude to an absent person. In this work the presence of the free-standing chair and the objects tossed on the floor might indicate that some action would have just taken place. Otherwise, they would be in order.
This is a tribute to his beloved Delft including a row of locally-made floor tiles. These tiles served to protect the lower walls from mops and brooms, to cover fireplaces and to isolate walls from humidity.
This green curtain functions as a familiar pictorial device called repoussoir meaning to push back. This means a contrast by placing a large figure or object in the foreground of a painting. In a number of Vermeer’s paintings there are repoussoir curtains in the foreground too placed between the first and the second window of the artist studio. They are pushed more on less to the left and gathered up a little at the bottom giving the impression of a stage with the curtain drawn back. The repoussoir curtain has noble origins and an example of this is this mural representing Parrhasius and Zeuxis.
The white curtain establishes one of three strong diagonal lines which gives energy to the composition and softens the composition’s rectilinear design.
The leadings of the window seem to be identical in design with the ones in the earlier Music Lesson but in this picture the central design has been colored. No one has been able to make out a figural meaning of the motif and maybe it was simply colored in order to bond the empty left-hand side of the painting with the right.
This painting is a Finding of Moses. It follows the same technique applied to other examples of the so-called pictures within-a-picture in other works by the artist. Curiously, the same Moses appears in the Astronomer, dramatically reduced scale.
As a curiosity, this painting has been stolen two times in the last twenty-five years. The first one was in 1974. The painting was stolen by the IRA (Irish Republican Army) from his owner, who was a member of Britain’s Parliament. Some members of IRA entered his home and stole a total of nineteen painting by using screwdrivers to cut the paintings from their frames. They were recovered a week later. The work was again taken in 1986 by a gang led by the Dublin organized crime gang leader Martin Cahill. Only after more than seven years of secret negotiations and international detective work was the painting recovered.
- Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid. (2010, December 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:32, May 23, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lady_Writing_a_Letter_with_her_Maid&oldid=401049839
- Essential Vermeer. The complete interactive Vermeer catalogue. Retrieved 19:30, May 23, 2011, from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/lady_writing_a_letter.html
- Vermeer: Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid. Retrieved 19:35, May 23, 2011, from http://www.artchive.com/artchive/V/vermeer/lady_writing.jpg.html
May 22, 2011
This is the powerpoint I used in my presentation:
May 21, 2011
|During the whole course, we have all realized that there are many art compositions that are based in Vermeer’s paintings. Here, I have tried to collect some of the most important ones that are based in the painting that I have been working on during these months “Woman in blue reading a letter”. This would be the two poems and the novel and then I will include some photographs based on another painting of Vermeer that has many similarities with “Woman in blue reading a letter”, which is “Woman reading at the window”.
This first poem was created by Bob Chapel and it is clearly based on Vermeer’s masterpiece:
The following poem is called “Woman in blue” and it was composed by Joan Siegel about “Woman in blue reading a letter”.
Woman in Blue
She travels toward him
only so far as her hands
have traveled the map
so far as her hands
have traveled the contours
of his body.
His voice fills the room
as though he were seated
in one of the empty carved chairs.
Brightness rises like moonlight
over her blue smock, the belly
that houses the child in its own
world, like the mother’s, distant
from the world of the father
as the evening star.
The Mother of Joan of Arc
She walks one hundred miles
to kneel at the statue of Mary.
In Le Puy’s cold cathedral,
she prays for her daughter,
one mother to another.
is the mother’s longing–
as it was at the birth
that first ripped her open–
what her body made
not see the flesh
of her flesh
The following work is a book called “Girl in Hyacinth blue” written by Susan Vreeland.
“For readers interested in art and history, Girl in Hyacinth Blue is a must read. Author Susan Vreeland traces ownership of a Vermeer painting from the present through each owner in reverse chronology to its seventeenth century Dutch artist. The painting has a complex history, told chapter by chapter in stories of each owner and describes the profound effect the painting had on each one. These stories depict ordinary details with clarity of a Vermeer work of art. Each chapter could stand on its own, like a little gift to the reader. Vreeland is an extremely skilled historical fiction writer, but this book challenges us to think about the function and purpose of art.”
And finally, these are two pictures taken by the famous photographer Tom Hunter and Jonathan Janson. Though them, they try to imitate in a photography Vermeer’s “Woman in blue reading a letter”, each of one in a different way.
“Woman Reading a Repossession Order”
- Vermeer’s Woman in blue reading a letter. The poem hunter. Retrieved: April 10, 2011 at 16:30 from http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/vermeer-s-woman-in-blue-reading-a-letter/
- Woman in blue. In quiet light: poems on Vermeer’s women. Retrieved: April 12, 2011 at 19:30 from http://books.google.es/books?id=w7uXAbqfNkQC&printsec=frontcover&dq=marilyn+chandler+mcentyre+-+in+quiet+light%3A+poems+on+Vermeer%27s+women&hl=es&ei=-7BZTbv2Lca1hAevl9TeDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false and http://vermeer0708.wordpress.com/woman-in-blue-reading-a-letter/
- Vreeland, Susan. Girl in Hyacinth blue. Retrieved: April 20, 2011 at 20:45 from http://www.cmlibrary.org/readers_club/reviews/tresults.asp?id=1496
- Hunter, Tom. “Woman Reading a Repossession Order”. Retrieved: April 22, 2011 at 15:30 from http://www.readingwoman.org/en/cols/2005/8.html
May 15, 2011
In the following lines you can find the presentation I did on Vermeer’s ‘The Girl with the Wine Glass’. First, I will show you the technical details and then I will try to reconstruct the essence of this particular painting.
- Title: The Girl with the Wine Glass
By: Jan Vermeer (1632 – 1675)
- Original Size: 66 x 77 cm
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Location: Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick, Germany
- Signature: Inscribed lower right window pane: IVMeer
Vermeer’s paintings belong to a genre of domestic scenes in mid 17th-century inHolland. Many of these scenes focus on relationships and man’s inability to resist his sexual appetite particularly under the influence of wine and tobacco. And briefly speaking, that is the story of this painting. Here we can see a scene of seduction where an elegant young man encourages a young woman to enjoy a glass of wine. However, the smile on her face as she turns to the viewer indicates that he, rather than she, is the one being seduced.
Now, let’s focus on some details. One of the most remarkable features is the portrait that Vermeer includes since this was the only time when Vermeer drew a picture-within-a-picture in one of his works. According to Vermeer expert Arthur Wheelock, the rigid pose and the elegant clothes of the man in the portrait as well as the careful placing of the upright portrait between the two male figures focus on the artist’s concerns for the lack of moral constraint in contemporary life.
Another important feature of the painting is this coloured stained-glass window. In this zoomed picture we can see how Vermeer portrays a lady in the glass window. The female figure holding bridle is said to personify Temperance. The bridle would symbolize emotional control. Thus, again it is very probable that, together with the portrait on wall, this window may represent moderation due to the protagonists’ lack of self restraint.
The young woman’s expressive face is not typical in Vermeer; he usually hides the emotions of the characters. One early Vermeer expert has suspected that her staring eyes and awkward smile were the result of overpainting. In any case, the woman, rather than exchanging glances with her suitor, turns towards the viewer, separating herself from him. Arthur Wheelock believes that the woman’s smiling is a knowing one, indicating not only that she is aware of the situation, but also that she is in control. Thus, it is he rather than she the one that is being seduced.
Although Vermeer’s paintings are primarily known for its lemon yellow and deep blue colour harmony, in this case the artist experimented with strong reds in his early days as a painter. In this way we can see erotic overtones such as red and yellow in the woman’s dress that may actually suggest desire. The fiery red of this dress may denote the hidden passions of the young woman who seems to be accepting the advances of the gentleman.
The suitor in the foreground carefully accompanies the woman’s hand which holds the wineglass in a delicate way. His intentions have been interpreted in a number of ways by Vermeer specialists, stating that he is a comic man, a seducer or the seduced. The truth is that his posture and expression is so formalized that he fails to unlock the precise narrative meaning of the painting.
Among all Vermeer’s paintings, it is the only painting other than the Concert to include three figures, but where the Concert shows two women and a man making music together, in this painting the third figure is apart from the couple in the background resting his head on his hand in a melancholy attitude. The obvious explanation is that, as his pose suggests, he is a suitor for the young woman too but he has been rejected. It is therefore understandable that his position is uncomfortable since he clearly does not fit in this situation.
Finally, it is important to point out that the two lemons, pipe, silver plate, wine and the sheet of paper possibly containing tobacco may be seen as a connotation of luxury, consumption and seduction. In many scenes of ritual courtship lemons are commonly set along side oysters served up on a silver plate and although we cannot clearly see oysters in this plate they may be. Moreover, lemons were also used to sweeten and soften the wine, in this respect once more they serve symbolically to indicate the importance of moderating one’s behaviour.
- Googlebooks. Vermeer and the Invention of Seeing by Bryan Jay Wolf. Retrieved on April 25, 2011 from http://books.google.es/books?id=TZgSLFesAZwC&pg=PA123&dq=Vermeer+The+girl+with+a+wine+glass&hl=es&ei=LVG4TYzzAs7A8QOUr7E4&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Vermeer%20The%20girl%20with%20a%20wine%20glass&f=false
- EssentialVermeer. The Girl with the Wine Glass by Johannes Vermeer. Retieved on April 25, 2011 from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/girl_with_a_wine_glass.html
May 11, 2011
‘Diana and her Companions’ (1655-1656) is a painting by Johannes Vermeer that can currently be found in a gallery of The Hague. It is Vermeer’s only surviving mythological scene, inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses (book III, 138-252). Diana, the virgin goddess of hunt and emblem of chastity, has gone hunting early in the morning, and the painting shows the end of her day; the moment in which she is having a rest in her favourite stream with her nymphs. However, this scene reflects an unusual moment before the climax of the story; this is, before Actaeon (young prince and son of the herdsman Aristaeus) breaks in. Both Diana and Actaeon have been hunting separately the whole day, but Diana will punish Actaeon for interrupting her sacred and intimate moment.
It was a bright spring day, and the animals were beginning to emerge from their burrows. Diana decided that it was a perfect day to go out hunting with her nymphs so that they could catch some tasty food for dinner. The woods were full of animals in early spring, therefore, Diana knew she would be successful in her hunting. After being out with her nymphs for the whole day, the nightfall began to appear and Diana stopped at her favourite stream to relax and to have a bath. This is the moment portrayed in the painting. Two of the nymphs are resting on the rock; another one keeps herself apart and contemplates the scene from a distance, and a fourth one is cleaning Diana’s feet using a brass water basin to prepare her for the bath. The brass water basin may have Christian undertones, implying that Diana is cleaning herself both physically and spiritually; however, it could also be related to death. Diana can only be recognised by the crescent moon she is wearing in her hair and by the hunting dog, since there are no other elements related to her hunting ability – such as a bow, arrows or dead animals. She is placed in the middle of a circle created by the nymphs, catching the viewer’s attention and presenting the idea of unity, balance and repose.
Nevertheless, this is not Diana’s most common side. She seems calm and thoughtful in the painting, but in mythology, she is described as cruel and vindictive. She even transformed Callisto, who is present in the scene, into a bear and expelled her from the court because she betrayed Diana by getting pregnant (which is a bit hypocritical if one notices that Diana herself is also pregnant). In the painting, it is the nymph in the black dress that seems to represent Callisto, since she remains on the background attempting to go unnoticed by the viewer; hinting that she is already hiding her pregnancy. This contrasts with the presence of the dog, which is probably representing loyalty and faithfulness; although it could be interpreted as a reminder of Actaeon’s tragic fate as well.
Actaeon appeared when Diana was nude, bathing. This was a sacred moment that no man could interrupt, but the presence of the dog and the thistle are already suggesting that a masculine figure is about to appear. Actaeon did not expect to contemplate that scene, since he went to the stream only to quench his thirst. Diana noticed he was watching, and full of anger – which shows her true personality -, she casted a spell on him. She threw some water drops on him and transformed Actaeon into a deer. Out of fear, he started to run as fast as he could, but fate was against him. His own hunting dogs attacked Actaeon and devoured him, after having mistaken him for a hunting prey. The nymphs knew about Diana’s angry character, so they simply made their own way to the palace and got ready to enjoy the food that they had hunted that same day.
- Diana and her Companions. Essential Vermeer. Retrieved: May 11, 2011 at 15:30 from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/diana_and_her_companions.html
- Diana and her Companions. Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia. Retrieved: May 11, 2011 at 15:35 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diana_and_Her_Companions
- Johannes Vermeer. Britannica. Retrieved: May 11, 2011 at 15:36 from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/626156/Johannes-Vermeer
May 11, 2011
“Woman in Blue Reading a Letter” was painted by Vermeer in the years between 1662 and 1665. Like the rest of the Vermeers, it is not very big and it is oil on canvas. Nowadays, it is part of the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Actually, it was the first of the Vermeer paintings that the museum acquired back in 1885.
“Woman in Blue Reading a Letter”, besides, is the only one of this artist’s paintings that is framed entirely against the rear wall of the room. Unlike others that are framed against the left and back walls of the room, this one only presents a single wall highlighting the sensation of a moment suspended in time. However, it also enhances the capacity of the painting to accomplish itself as a world- establishing depth, gravity and a sense of time and space regardless to the room’s physical coordinates. In it, we can observe a woman standing next to a table, dressed in a blue garment, and reading something that looks like a letter.
The interior that Vermeer shows us, moreover, is full of very important element. The following ones would be the most relevant ones:
First of all, we find the woman. This young lady has been identified to be the artist’s wife Catharina Bolnes, although there is no objective and official support for that. Nonetheless, at Vermeer’s time it was usual to employ family members to model for artists as a means of saving money. Besides, they thought that it was easier to work with relatives since it reduced tensions and the artist could exactly tell them which pose to keep for very long hours.
Probably the most important element of this particular painting is the blue garment that the lady is wearing. According to the clothes expert Marieke Van Winkel, this garment is called a beddejak and it is a garment with straight sleeves, usually blue or white satin, which was closed in the front with a row of bows. It was used as bed cloth and due to the expensive material that was made of, only rich people could afford it. It was not usual for Dutch painters to depict this garment is their paintings.
So, we can conclude that the lady in the painting has just woken up from bed and she’s reading the letter in the morning light. In addition, the color blue (more exactly ultramarine blue) of the garment that predominates in the painting, has been associated with sadness and melancholy. So, probably, the woman is reading a sad letter.
Regarding to the possible pregnancy of the woman, most experts agree that it was probably not the case. First of all, because it was not common to portray pregnant women in Dutch art and besides, because the fashion of the time led to that kind of error since it encouraged the bulky silhouette.
Chairs appear in many Vermeers too. The chairs in this painting are Spanish chairs. Its basic model developed in Spain by the 15th century and it soon spread to all over Europe. They were considered very valuable and not everybody could afford them. In this case, they only show high social rank.
Maps are also very recurrent in Vermeer’s work. The one that we find in this particular one is the map of Holland and Friesland that was designed by Balthasar Florisz van Berkenrode in 1620. We can find the same exact map in “Officer and Laughing Girl”. Nowadays, it we want to see the only surviving sample of this map we must go to the Westfries Museum in Hoorn.
Moreover, there is a piece of dark clothe that we find in the left low side of the painting. This gives darkness to the whole painting. It is composed by a blue tablecloth and a scarf like piece.
Finally, we have the letter the woman is reading. In Dutch art, depictions of women reading letters were usually connected to love. In this case, the artist may wanted to show that the letter has arrived unexpectedly since the woman ahs been interrupted from her morning toilet to stop and read it. If we take the already mentioned elements we can also think that probably her husband is a man that travels a lot (the map) so she writes to her often to tell her about her life outside home.
On the table there is also another page that could either be the first part or the second part of the letter. At that time, letters were usually not put in envelopes but folded in three and sealed with wax.
Other paintings of Vermeer that include letters are:
- Girl reading a letter at an open window
- Lady writing a letter with her maid
- A lady writing
- Lady with her maidservant holding a letter
- Woman in blue reading a letter. Essential Vermeer. Retrieved: April 10,2011 at 17:40 from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/woman_in_blue_reading_a_letter.html
- Woman in blue reading a letter. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved: April 10 at 18:15 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_in_Blue_Reading_a_Letter