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“A Lady Writing a Letter” by Johannes Vermeer

"A Lady Writing a Letter" by Johannes Vermeer

“A Lady Writing a Letter” by Johannes Vermeer

“A Lady Writing a Letter” by Johannes Vermeer depicts a lady writing a letter while sitting at a table in a room. She appears to have been interrupted, as she looks up towards the viewer, while she continues to hold the quill in her right hand.

The lady is dressed in an elegant lemon-yellow morning jacket and wears pearl earrings. A necklace lies on the table.

Vermeer’s compositional focus is on the woman and her face. The smaller objects on the table stand in contrast with the large forms used in the rest of the composition, which create a geometric framework for the figure.

The table is brought close to the picture plane to emphasizes the directness of her gaze. Johannes Vermeer preserves the integrity of the picture plane to create a vivid illusion of three-dimensional space.

On the back of the wall is a dark painting that covers much of the background and contrast with the lady’s brighter colors.

Many of the objects in this painting, such as the woman’s coat, the cloth on the table, and the string of pearls, also appear in other Vermeer works.

The repeated use of these objects has led to speculation that his household owned the items. This pattern of reuse has led to speculation that the models used in his paintings were also people from his family or their staff and acquaintances.

It has also been suggested that in his paintings, Vermeer sought to depict a calm and affluence that he aspired.

Like many other paintings by Vermeer, the painting was made for his patron Pieter van Ruijven (1624–1674) and was completed by artist during his mature phase, in the mid-to-late 1660s. 

Pieter van Ruijven

Pieter Claesz. van Ruijven (1624 – 1674) is best known as Johannes Vermeer’s patron for the better part of the artist’s career.

His family inherited 20 paintings by Vermeer, which in 1696 were eventually sold in an auction in Amsterdam.

The Dissius sale, was a landmark event in the history of Vermeer’s art. Jacob Dissius was Pieters van Ruijven’s son-in-law.

Twenty-one Vermeers brought a total of 1,503 guilders and ten stuivers, then a substantial sum.

Of the 21 paintings by Vermeer in the Dissius auction of 1696, 15 are usually matched to currently known paintings, while six others are either lost or unidentified.

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 was not wealthy, as he left his family in debt after his death. 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.

A Lady Writing a Letter

  • Title:              A Lady Writing a Letter
  • Also:              A Lady Writing
  • Artist:            Johannes Vermeer
  • Year:             1665
  • Medium:       Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:  45 cm × 39.9 cm (18 in × 15.7 in)
  • Museum:       National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Johannes Vermeer

Woman Writing a Letter

Dutch Golden Age painting

Virtual Tour of the National Gallery of Art


“Feathers shall raise humanity even as they do birds towards heaven:- That is by letters written with their quills.”
– Leonardo da Vinci


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

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