Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window (ca. 1659) by Johannes VermeerOld Masters Picture Gallery, Dresden State Art Museums
Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window was one of the first in a series of paintings depicting interiors which focus on just a few figures engaged in intimate domestic activities.
Vermeer reveals the rear section of a high-ceilinged room, about a third of which is hidden behind a curtain hanging on the right-hand side.
In front of the open window stands a girl, depicted in full profile, who is absorbed in reading a letter. The scene is full of poetry and an almost magical sense of peace and quiet.
A few items of furniture –
...a chair pushed into a corner...
...a rug-covered table with a bowl of fruit on it separating the viewer from the figure – combine to give definition to the pictorial space.
The table with the crumpled rug and the curtain pushed aside on the right in the foreground function as a compositional barrier, a repoussoir, making it difficult for the viewer to gain visual access to the closed-off space in the background.
The curtain on the right is not a component of the girl’s room but is clearly in a different image plane located closer to the viewer.
It hangs from 10 small rings on a metal rod which seems to be attached to a wooden frame.
Having apparently just been pulled aside, the curtain now reveals to the viewer a scene that would otherwise have remained hidden. This seems to have been the only work in which Vermeer used this trompe-l’œil motif (trompe-l’œil: French for ‘deceive the eye’, i.e. painting in such a way as to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions).
The reflection of the “Girl Reading a Letter” in the window pane is one of the particularly charming details in this painting, since it provides an indirect view of the girl’s enigmatic face. However, the angle of the head and the girl’s hairstyle do not entirely correspond to the reflection, and the form of the neckline is completely different.
Furthermore, the reflection is impossible in relation to the girl’s position in the room. Radiographic imaging has revealed that in an initial version of this work the figure of the “Girl Reading a Letter” was somewhat smaller and was painted in three-quarter profile viewed from behind, so that her face would have been more inclined towards the window.
This lion’s head corresponds exactly to the form of the carved lions’ heads that are characteristic of the so-called Spanish chairs popular in the Netherlands during Vermeer’s lifetime.
This exhibition is part of the Google Vermeer Project.