Women & Letters

As I have already explained in my previous post, there are six paintings in Vermeer’s oeuvre dealing with letter themes. In all of them, women are writing, reading or the letter is just being delivered by the maid so that the lady can start reading it. In some of these paintings, the lady appears on her own writing or reading. Yet, in some others, the figure of the maid is included which might suggest the expectations and anxieties that surround the arrival of the letter.

A Lady Writing

Mistress and Maid

Lady Writing a Letter with her Maidservant

Girl reading a Letter at an Open Window

Woman in Blue Reading a Letter

Woman with a Lute

These letters seem to be love letters that women sent to men and, the other way around, men sent to women. The interest of the painter in portraying women with letters might be related to his marriage with Catharina Bolnes. His wife was a literate woman who could read and write and, in fact, had a very beautiful handwriting. Moreover, his sister was also a woman who could read and write, although she had an elementary level. On the contrary, Vermeer was an illiterate man by the time of their marriage and this is probably why he does not portray male figures in his epistolary scenes. Yet, it is worth pointing out that men were not completely absent from these scenes, since women with a letter usually implied a man as either author or intended recipient of those missives.