Girl reading a letter by an open window (5)

Before I begin with the painting itself, it will be interesting to mention something about Johannes Vermeers life and works.  Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter of the 17th century. The same as many great artists we know very little about his life.  Vermeer was born in Delft and stayed there all his life. He married Catharina Bolnes in 1653. In that same year he joined the St Lucas painters’ guild. Later, in 1662 and 1669, he was chosen to preside over the guild. Vermeer did earn a meagre income as an art dealer rather than through selling his paintings. Sometimes he even had to pay his debts to local food stores with a painting. Vermeer died very poor. His widow had to trade all paintings still in her possession to the city council in return for a small allowance.

After his death Vermeer was soon forgotten. His paintings were sometimes sold bearing the name of another painter to raise their value. Only very recently has Vermeer been recognised as one of the greats. At the beginning of the twentieth century rumours ran rampant that there were yet undiscovered Vermeer paintings. Very few paintings of Vermeer are known today. Only 35 to 40 works that are attributed to him do exist.

He is  best known for his painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” was a Dutch painter who loved to paint domestic interiors, portraits and city views. Vermeer was a Master in the Delft painters’ guild from 1653, and was considered a very fine painter in his lifetime, though his skill was nearly forgotten until 1866 when art critic Thoré Burger published an essay attributing 66 pictures to him. It came to light that only 34 paintings where actually by Vermeer

Vermeer is after Rembrandt the second most famous Dutch painter of the 17th century His paintings are admired for their transparent colours, well though-out composition and brilliant use of light. Vermeer’s transparent colours were produced by bringing the paint unto the canvas in loosely granular layers, a technique called pointillé. It is thought that Vermeer possibly used the Camera Obscura to achieve a perfect perspective in his compositions.
Almost all of Vermeer’s paintings are in house scenes (even the two landscapes that we know are seen from within through a window). He painted mostly genre pieces and portraits. As an exception he left us also two city views.
His painting cover all layers of society, at one time portraying a simple milkmaid at work, at other works showing the luxury and splendour of rich notables and merchantmen in their roomy houses. Religious and scientific connotations can be found in his works.

After knowing a little bit more about his life and works, I will focus on the painting I have chosen. The painting was finished in 1657 and nowadays is housed in   the Gemaldegalerie of Dresden.

In this painting, a young woman stands in the centre of the composition reading a letter. There are several doubt of who this woman is, some points out that she is Vermeer’s wife. According to essentialvermeer it is a love letter because the X-ray showed Cupid.  The girl is facing an open window to the left. In the foreground is a table covered with the same Turkish rug encountered in the woman asleep. On it we can see a plate with fruits which symbolizes The Biblical passage of the Garden of Eden. The window reflects the girl’s features, while to the right the large green curtain forms a deceptive frame. She is precisely silhouetted against a bare wall that reflects the light and envelops her in its luminosity.

We are here confronted with one of the salient aspects of Vermeer’s sensibility and originality. It is the stillness that stands out, the inner absorption, the remoteness from the outer world. She concentrates entirely upon the letter, holding it firmly and tautly, while she absorbs its content with utmost attention.

There are five points of light highlighting the five most important things on the painting: The profile of this girl matches with the profile of the woman in the painting “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter”. It could be Vermeer’s wife, Catharina Bolnes. The reflection of the girl in the window emphasizes the importance of the letter.Her thoughts are totally absorbed in the letter. We just see half of the face but if we looked to the window, her face is reflected.)The window through which light entersThe curtain (The idea of including a curtain in the painting became very popular in the mid 17th century. The curtain is playing a role in the painting: is showing us a private scene)

Regarding the technique, he paints in small fatty dabs to model the forms, and obtains the desired effects by means of impasto highlights opposed to the deeper tonalities. The painting is relatively large, and the smallness of the figure as opposed to its surroundings stresses immateriality and depersonalization. Vermeer considerably changed the composition in the course of execution.


* Wikipedia: on 9th April 2010

* NGA Vermeer Biography: retrivied on 9th April 2010

* Wikipedia: retrivied on 10th April 2010

* EssentialVermeer: retrieved on 10th April 2010