VERMEER, Johannes
(b. 1632, Delft, d. 1675, Delft)

The Love Letter

Oil on canvas, 44 x 38,5 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Signature: Signed on the wall, to the left of the servant.

Provenance: The identification with no. 7 of the Amsterdam sale, 1696, can apply to this painting as well as to the Lady with a Maidservant Holding a Letter (Frick Collection, New York). Collection Pieter van Lennep, and his wife, Margaretha Cornelis Kops, then their daughter Margaretha Catharina van Lennep, and her husband, Jan Messchert van Vollenhoven. His sale, Amsterdam, 1892. In the museum since 1893.

In this painting, the use of the inverted Galilean telescope is apparent without doubt. We look at the principal scene through a doorway. The foreground is enhanced, dark, and lacks precision in the map on the left wall.

The identical map recurs distinctly rendered in the Officer with a Laughing Girl (Frick Collection, New York). The other objects nearest the viewer are also muted and almost blurred. On the other hand, the mistress and her maid, as well as the room in which they are placed, are well defined in spite of their recession into space.

The composition is attractive and treated in a decorative manner, although the two figures are devoid of individualization and resemble puppets rather than persons. Part of this shallowness may be due to damage from the theft and subsequent holding for ransom of the painting, which occurred at an exhibition in Brussels in 1971. The picture suffered much more than was later admitted, and no restorer, however skilful, can equal Vermeer.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 2 minutes):
Francesco da Milano: Tre fantasie for lute