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“Mistress and Maid” by Johannes Vermeer

"Mistress and Maid" by Johannes Vermeer

“Mistress and Maid” by Johannes Vermeer

“Mistress and Maid” by Johannes Vermeer depicts two women, in which the maid interrupts to deliver a letter to the seated woman who was writing a letter. The painting exemplifies Vermeer’s preference for yellow and blue, female models, and domestic scenes. 

Vermeer made strong use of yellow in the woman’s elegant fur-lined overcoat and blue in the silk tablecloth and the maid’s apron. The painting focuses on the Mistress sitting at a desk writing, and the Maid as she delivers a message.

The light in the painting comes from the left and falls on the mistress’s face. The mistress has a pensive gaze, with her fingertips lifted to her chin in a questioning manner.

Vermeer favored the portrayal of quiet domestic scenes containing women. For Vermeer, this composition focuses on a moment of interaction and interruption that suggests drama and mystery.

The gestures and expressions of the two women in this painting suggest anxiety over the letter and contents.

The lighted yellow overcoat is painted with sweeping brushstrokes of lead-tin-yellow, and the shadows are created with a detailed finish. Pearls were a status symbol of the period, reflected in the mistress’s abundance of pearls.

As Vermeer painted in other paintings such as  Girl with a Pearl Earring, the background is dark in the shadows and lacks adornment, and remains undefined.

Letters are a consistent theme in Vermeer’s paintings, including works such a “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” and “A Lady Writing a Letter.”

The Mistress wears the same yellow jacket with an ermine border as in “A Lady Writing a Letter.”

Vermeer produced only two to three paintings a year, and only 35 known works exist today. Vermeer died at a relatively young age, 43, in 1675. 

Johannes Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675) was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life.

He was a moderately successful painter in his lifetime. However, he was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death.

There are only thirty-four paintings by Vermeer, and they are challenging to date. Vermeer painted mostly domestic interior scenes, and most of his pictures are set in the rooms of his house in Delft.

There are similar furniture and decorations in various arrangements in his domestic scenes, and his art often portrays the same people.

He produced relatively few paintings compared to his contemporaries. Art historians mainly overlooked Vermeer’s works for several centuries after his death. 

However, his reputation has skyrocketed in the last few hundred years, and he is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.

Mistress and Maid

  • Title:                 Mistress and Maid
  • Also:                Lady with Her Maidservant Holding a Letter
  • Dutch:              Dame en dienstbode, or Vrouw en dientbode met brief
  • Artist:               Johannes Vermeer
  • Year:                 1667
  • Type:                Oil on canvas
  • Period:             Dutch Golden Age
  • Dimensions:    Height: 90.2 cm (35.5 in); Width: 78.4 cm (30.8 in)
  • Museum:         Frick Collection

“Mistress and Maid” by Johannes Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer

 Johannes Vermeer

Virtual Tour of the Frick Collection

Johannes Vermeer


“Opportunity creates desire.”
– Dutch Proverb


Photo Credit: 1) Johannes Vermeer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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