The Love letter

It is a 17th century painting by Johannes Vermmer. In the painting is a servant maid that hands over a letter to a young woman with a lute. The painting is part of the collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

The tied-up curtain in the foreground creates the impression that the viewer is looking at an intensely private, personal scene. The diagonals on the chequered floor create the impression of depth and three-dimensionality.

The fact that it is a love letter that the woman has received is made clear by the fact that she is carrying a lute (more specifically, a cittern, a member of the lute/guitar family). The lute was a symbol of love – often carnal love – in the sixteenth century. This idea is further reinforced by the slippers at the very bottom of the picture. The removed slipper was another symbol of illicit love. The floor brush would appear to represent domesticity, and its placement at the side of the painting may suggest that domestic concerns have been forgotten or pushed aside.

The two paintings on the wall are also significant. The lower painting is of a stormy sea, a clear metaphor for tempestuous love. Above it is a picture of a traveller on a sandy road. This may refer to the absence of the man who is writing to the lady.