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Woman reading a letter (Woman in Blue Reading a Letter)

Johannes Vermeer

Woman reading a letter (Woman in Blue Reading a Letter)

Johannes Vermeer
  • Date: c.1662 - c.1663
  • Style: Baroque
  • Genre: genre painting
  • Media: oil, canvas
  • Tag: books-and-letters, female-portraits, reading-and-writing
  • Dimensions: 46.5 x 39 cm
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Woman Reading a Letter (Dutch: Brieflezende vrouw) is a painting by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Part of the collection of the City of Amsterdam as part of the Van der Hoop bequest, it has been in the Rijksmuseum since its inception, and was thus the first Vermeer they acquired.

The central element of the painting is a woman in blue standing in front of a window (not depicted) reading a letter. The woman appears to be pregnant, although many have argued that the woman's rounded figure is simply a result of the fashions of the day. Although the woman's loose clothing may be suggestive, pregnancy was very rarely depicted in art during this period.

While the contents of the letter are not depicted, the composition of the painting is revealing. The map of the Netherlands on the wall behind the woman has been interpreted as suggesting that the letter she reads was written by a traveling husband. Alternatively, the box of pearls barely visible on the table before the woman might suggest a lover as pearls are sometimes a symbol of vanity. The very action of letter-reading reflects a thematic pattern throughout Vermeer's works, as the quotidian, private moment becomes revealing of the human condition.

The painting is unique among Vermeer's interiors in that no fragment of corner, wall or ceiling can be seen.

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