Ladies with Letters: Vermeer’s Letter Writer

Vermeer for blogI confess that I’m one of those philistines who knew very little about Johannes Vermeer until I watched the film, The Girl with a Pearl Earring. And now I will forever picture him as looking exactly like Colin Firth.

The 17th century artist’s legacy resides in a scant 34 paintings, primarily domestic scenes infused with light, such as this exquisite portrait of a woman writing a letter. Vermeer enjoyed a modest career in the Dutch city of Delft during his lifetime, but sank into obscurity until his work was rediscovered in the 19th century.

imagesNote that the woman in yellow wore the same enormous pearl earrings that figured so prominently in the portrait after which the  film was named. From her beribboned hair to her fur trimmed jacket, this was a woman accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle and the funds to purchase luxury items.

Compared to other parts of Europe, citizens of the Dutch Republic enjoyed a higher rate of literacy. The ability of a woman to write her own letters 350 years ago was the exception rather than the rule.

Vermeer detail for blogVermeer’s meticulous style captured a wealth of detail: a pearl necklace with ribbon ties lies on the table, the writer’s quill pen is stained black at the nib, and her beautiful brass bound chest sports drawers with keyholes to lock up her treasures.

What is she writing about to her friends or family? That the servants broke another plate or that the price of fish at the market has risen again or perhaps that her seamstress finished her new yellow coat.

Whatever the news, she conveyed it in style in Vermeer’s richly lighted world.

You can find cards and other items featuring Vermeer’s Letter Writer at the Post Whistle store on Zazzle.  

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