John Mcewen com­ments on The Love Let­ter

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting -

Ver­meers are a pop­u­lar choice for this page. Ne­glected for two cen­turies, his paint­ings cer­tainly con­form to the mod­ernist taste for or­der and re­straint, for the for­mal qual­i­ties of a pic­ture more than the story it tells. Ver­meer does not tell sto­ries. This is an ex­cep­tion.

The pic­tures within the pic­ture sig­nal that the let­ter, de­liv­ered by the maid, is a love let­ter. The seascape is the first clue. In the 17th cen­tury, the sea was of­ten po­et­i­cally equated with love, the lover with a ship. The al­lu­sion is em­pha­sised by the land­scape with its wan­derer, an­other po­etic image of love. Both ship and wan­derer speak of ex­ile and yearn­ing for re­union.

Dutch pic­tures of this, the Golden Age of Dutch art—a con­se­quence of the apogee of the marine and mer­can­tile power of the Nether­lands—are loaded with sym­bols and the spoils of im­pe­rial suc­cess. The pic­tures have frames made from ebony im­ported from the Dutch east Indies and the mar­ble, lux­u­ri­ous cur­tain and the mis­tress’s silk dress all sug­gest for­eign im­ports. The pic­tures them­selves are tes­ti­mony to solid burgher pros­per­ity, the prod­uct of in­ter­na­tional dom­i­nance, from which Ver­meer, as artist and dealer, ben­e­fited.

How­ever, that does not ex­plain the skill that mag­i­cally trans­forms this mun­dane scene. For that, one must con­sider the ren­der­ing of the bat­tered and stained wood­work. The subtle ge­ome­tries that har­monise the se­vere lines fram­ing the door with the whole. The sump­tu­ous cur­tain that, when dropped, will sti­fle the keen­est draught. The touches of colour, the play of light that, with the broom and dis­carded slip­pers, lend their own ver­nal sym­bol­ism to the scene.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.