Johannes Vermeer: Secrets Behind the Painting, “Woman Reading a Letter”

Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum

February 10 – June 4, 2023, The Rijksmuseum has promised the largest Johannes Vermeer exhibition, entitled Vermeer. The magnitude of this exhibition is envisioned in the research projects leading up to the February 2023 opening.  In the weeks ahead, ChasingART will travel virtually to The Rijksmuseum to find the stories behinds the paintings.

Who was Johannes Vermeer?

In the 17th century, Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer was just one of many masters working in a small town known for its trade. But today, he stands out as the greatest Dutch artist of his time and his work has earned him a distinctive place in art history.

Johannes Vermeer was born around 1632 in the Dutch city of Delft (it was known as Den Briel at the time). Little is known about his early life, and he appears to have led a rather unremarkable existence. We do know that he studied art in Delft and got married at the age of 27 to Catharina Bolnes, which was of concern to Catharina’s mother, Maria Thins, based on Vermeer’s financial circumstances.   Johannes and Catharina had fifteen children, four of whom, regrettably were buried before being baptized.

Johannes Vermeer’s artistic life spanned just over 20 years, during which he lived frugally and produced only 35 paintings.  His art is both old-fashioned and utterly timeless. When I view his paintings, I feel like I have stepped through a door into Johannes Vermeer’s time. There is an unexpected sense of intimacy that challenges me to consider the necessity of art within our lives.

His paintings are filled with light, and it is this radiance that makes his work unique. Vermeer used light in a way that nobody had done before. He wanted his paintings to look like windows into a real world, so he used light to create the illusion of realism. He painted light in a very deliberate way, using it to create shapes and patterns that look like they exist in the real world.

Johannes Vermeer is now considered the most famous artist of his time, but he was also the most mysterious. He left behind no letters, no journals, not even a list of his own works. After his death, the art world had no idea what to make of his paintings, until the French art critic, Théophile Thoré Burger, rediscovered him.  He is now considered one of the most original painters of his generation.  Through his masterpieces he reveals an innovative understanding of art as an important human activity.

Woman Reading a Letter, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1663

oil on canvas, h 46.5cm × w 39cm × d 6.5cm More details

Woman Reading a Letter, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1663

The story behind “Woman Reading a Letter”

Enjoying a quiet, private moment, this young woman is absorbed in reading a letter in the morning light. She is still wearing her blue night jacket. All of the colours in the composition are secondary to its radiant lapis lazuli blue. Vermeer recorded the effects of light with extraordinary precision. Particularly innovative is his rendering of the woman’s skin with pale grey, and the shadows on the wall using light blue.” The Rijksmuseum

Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

12 thoughts on “Johannes Vermeer: Secrets Behind the Painting, “Woman Reading a Letter”

  1. This story is interesting from beginning to the end. Our painter married Catarina at age 27. This union was of considerable concern to his mother because of their poverty, however, this union produced 15 children, all of them but four survived. Our painter was born and lived his young life in an unremarkable place, but his paintings are remarkable filled with light and radiance. The lady in the painting is remarkable, her lovely blue dress standing, it would seem, in the bright morning light.
    Johannes Vermeer’s articles are well worth reading. Thank you for posting this article, its history and value.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Marina! I am finding that every painting has a story that has been given life by the artist. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to meet up in Amsterdam in February to see this exhibit together! Sending hugs back your way.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. My first thought was “I would be terrified of handling that painting.” It would only take one slip. YIKES! This will be an extraordinary exhibition. I am researching the paintings that will be on display. Even with our science, there is active debate. I just read a Guardian article: Museums spar over authenticity of painting ahead of major Vermeer show. Rijksmuseum to display Girl With a Flute at exhibition despite National Gallery of Art, Washington, saying it is an imitation. A very interesting article indeed!

      Liked by 1 person

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