Love Letter by Johannes Vermeer

Love Letter

Letter theme in Vermeer’s paintings

This is Vermeer’s third letter painting, a love letter this time, but again quite different compared to the other two, A girl reading a letter by open window and A woman in blue reading a letter.

With the unparalleled surge in literacy in the Netherlands, common women, for the first time, committed their feelings to paper. First person statements in the Dutch Republic, including letter writing, private diaries, journals, soul searching poems and self-portraits, proliferated far beyond their Renaissance role in aristocratic culture.
Letter writing manuals written in vernacular Dutch flourished. They offered instructions not only for fine calligraphy but in regards to style and elements of composition as well. It was only logical that this novel and widespread activity would become a favorite subject for painters.
Although an upsurge letter writing had given birth to a thriving postal service in 17th-century Netherlands, it was far from organized. Messengers multiplied but complaints often arose about these “hirelings” who tended to inflate postage rates. They were also noted for their impertinent behavior. Some great men and well-to-do private citizens retained their own trusted private couriers in order to maintain communication secret. Servant girls could rarely sign their name and probably could not read, suggesting that they provided an exceptionally discreet corps of letter delivery.

Behind the woman is a painting of a ship. A lover or husband at sea and her maid is bringing his letter. The ship symbolizes the lover, the sea is a metaphor for love.



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