Woman in blue reading a letter



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.


Her prayer

is the mother’s longing–

as it was at the birth

that first ripped her open–

to hold

what her body made


not see the flesh

of her flesh


like paper.


Apart from “Woman in blue reading a letter”, the picture of Vermeer I have chosen, these are the others pictures of women reading he painted:

girl reading a letter by an open windowthe love letterLady with her Maidservant Holding a Letterlady writing a letter 






Why did you choose Vermeer as the subject of your novel instead of another painter?

With a Dutch name but no known family history, I found myself, during a period of extended illness, poring over the National Gallery catalog of the 1995-96 Johannes Vermeer exhibition, and imagining my way out of my uncertain circumstances by imagining my way into these paintings. In his paintings of women in their homes, as I was, caught in a reflective moment, bathed by that gorgeous honey-colored light which also touched with significance the carefully chosen items in the scene, I found a healing tranquility. They reminded me of Wordsworth’s line: “With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony and by the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.” I saw that Vermeer had the same reverence for hand-made things that I felt. He, too, was a lover of the qualities of things: the pale luminous colors in a hand-dipped window pane, a woman’s silk jacket with fur trim, the rough nap of a hand-knotted Turkish carpet, a hand-drawn wall map.

In your writing was it an advantage or a disadvantage to  the fact that so little is known of the life and work of Vermeer?

Because Girl in Hyacinth Blue is more of a novel of the effects of one imaginary painting on people in four centuries rather than the life of the painter, it was an advantage that relatively little is known about Vermeer. Had there been as much scholarship on Vermeer as on Rembrandt, for example, I would have been overwhelmed. As it was, I was able to discover just enough to populate and shape and make concrete the two stories that deal directly with Vermeer out of the eight stories in the book.

Which picture or pictures by Vermeer did you have in mind when you imagined the “unknown Vermeer”?

The window bathing a figure in warm light I took from Woman with a Water Jug and Woman with a Pearl Necklace. The reflection of a woman’s face in that window was suggested by Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window. The color of Magdalena’s smock came from Woman in Blue Reading a Letter. The Spanish chair with lion’s head finials, the black and white tile floor, the map, the red and blue Turkish carpet can be seen in several paintings already named. The idea of sewing came from The Lacemaker, and the idea of a glass of milk on the table came from The Milkmaid even though those paintings did not have the objects I invented. Vermeer’s Portrait of a Young Woman, which melts me with love, was the face I held in my mind when writing Vermeer’s daughter, Magdalena’s, character.

Has your thoughts and feelings regarding  Vermeer changed after the completion of the book?

It wasn’t until after the book was published that I ever saw an original Vermeer face to face. Those three occasions deepened my appreciation for his art, for the mastery of his brush strokes, his glazing, his details. To be in their presence was as profound a joy as I can imagine.

Do you feel that  the the explosion of global communications technology  which has taken place in the last decades has any relation with the explosion of popularity of Vermeer in the same period?

This is not a thought that had occurred to me, no. There is, however, a definite appeal to the emotions in his paintings showing women reading or writing letters. The intensity of this communication, so slow at the time, is palpable. One can imagine both Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window and Woman in Blue Reading a Letter devouring quickly and then rereading the long awaited letter where every word is precious.


Taken from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/




I have found a very interesting web page about Johannes Vermeer: http://www.essentialvermeer.com/

We can find a lot of information about his life, technique, paintings, lots of things related to him.




The use of the blue color in the picture “Woman in blue reading a letter” predominates rather than any other color. It could be understood that Vermeer wanted to give us a clue as viewers with the use of this color. This is because blue color has always been asociated with sadness and melancholy. Maybe Vermeer intended to show the viewers that the letter the woman was reading in the picture, is a sad letter.

More specifically, this blue color is called “Natural Ultramarine” in Vermeer’s palette. We can appreciate it in the jacket of the woman and in the furniture as well.


According to the web page recommended below, “natural ultramarine is made of the powder of the crushed semi-precious stone lapis lazuli which, after being thoroughly purified by repeated washings, is bonded to a drying oil through hand mulling.”  It also says that this pigment used is like a very light blue, as we can see in the detail of the jacket, and much more expensive than azurite, another blue pigment.




She denied leaving that room. From that window, it was the last time she saw her lover when he left with the other soldiers. She had turned the room into her private space to dream. From there, she imagined the scene of the letter time and time again, the one which would finish with the hell of doubts, but would discover her worst suspects at the same time. From there, she let that her tears relieved her anguish soaking the blue tablecloth. From there, she dreamed awake with happy endings that wouldn’t include scenes with letters. From there, she stood hours watching the map on the wall and seeing herself travelling through these paths, with her arms opened until arriving where HE was. From there, she revived tirelessly the good moments they had shared together, repeating sentences in a low voice. From there, she prayed for him to be well and that the letter didn’t arrive.

3 responses to “Woman in blue reading a letter

  1. Pingback: Some examples of Vermeer’s influence « Johannes Vermeer’s influence and inspiration·

  2. The twin paintings can be placed side-by-side in our minds, but not for the common and understandable assertion (in error?), that both are representations of Catharina Bolnes. Girl (Catharina) Reading a Letter by an Open Window beside the Woman (? Gertruijt) in Blue Reading a Letter need further comparison to describe Vermeer’s constructs within the works that make them sisters in more than the physical attitude of silhouette-tilted heads and tensely gripped paper. The extended straight lines in various paintings that he used as directional(s) to matters or objects pertaining to the personal attention of the artist or the person depicted have been shown to inform beyond the discernible action of the characters within. The factual proofs of the straight lines and their important revelations within the “Girl Reading…” are incontestable when the claims in my September 21st and 23rd posts in the “Girl Reading..” are trialed. The straight lines of the Girl’s skirt’s flare are converged to an apex in the pointille highlight of her ear and the various objects align lines to the nutmeg on the table. Both paintings, using the constantia pivot points that were posited, which in each case are located close to the top edge of the painting surface, produced circles that scribe a line at the edge of the eye to the edge of the neckline collar, identically. The “Girl with a Pitcher of Water” is another painting that utilizes a constantia point close to an edge of the surface. Vermeer, and his friends Ter Borch and Netscher, always identified these pivot points which were used to generate concentric circles as structural two dimensional entities as strong unifying elements of composition. In the “Woman in Blue..” Vermeer has produced a copy of a portion of the Balthazar Berckenrode map of the Netherlands Protestant provinces, which was published in 1620. 1620 was also the year of his sister Gertruijt’s birth and the map portion that Vermeer reproduced contains both the cities of Amsterdam and Delft; the former her birthplace and the latter is where she lived out her life.
    To identify the lady in blue as Gertruijt is a moot argument, but the establishment of the city of Delft on this map as a single point and constantia point for the eye/collar twinning of the pictures is guaranteed by Vermeer, himself. In the same way as revealed in the Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window, he has used the straight lines found in the folds of the top of the skirt in the “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter” – six lines, if adding the one from the front of her blue jak – to find their apex at the point of the map near to the top edge of the painting and vertically above her left shoulder. That point is positioned in Delft.

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