Jan Vermeer - Girl reading a letterOil on canvas, 1657–1659, 83 cm × 64,5 cm, God in World

Who wrote me?


Jan Vermeer — Girl reading a letter 

A young woman stands at the open window and reads - with great attention and inner tension - a love letter. Jan Vermeer painted the letter reader at the open window around 1657 and her face is reflected in the window with a slight refraction. The open window serves the incidence of light into the dark room and can be seen as the woman's desire to open the domestic area. The background to this interpretation was the prevailing norm at the time of largely isolating wives from the outside world.

On a ruffled carpet in the foreground is a bowl from which fruit falls out. The peaches and apples, reminiscent of Eve's fall, allow us to draw conclusions about an adultery that could begin with the receipt of the letter. X-rays of the painting revealed that Vermeer had originally inserted a picture of Cupido, the Roman counterpart to the god of love Armor. The depiction of the Cupido, Latin for desire, would have made it much easier for the recipient to understand the picture. Vermeer finally reversed this unambiguousness by overpainting. The curtain on the right side of the picture forms the compositional counterpart to the window construction, whereby both picture objects frame the main event and focus the viewer's gaze on it.

Vermeer constructed his compositions with skillful meticulousness and even used a camera obscura, a pinhole camera. In order to depict the space in three dimensions and to create a distance between the picture and its viewer, he often worked very vivid picture objects, such as the carpet, into it. Here, as is often the case with Vermeer, the vanishing point lies behind the central image objects and in this case ends behind the curtain in the right edge of the image.

Vermeer succeeds in creating a gap with the thoughtful depiction of the young woman that can be filled individually by each viewer: Who wrote the letter? What does it say, and with what words? And - will she respond to the offer?

© the artinspector / anne mrosowski