|Johannes Vermeer, Girl Reading a Letter Before an Open Window, 1657-59, oil on canvas|
It's thought this young woman Vermeer painted around 1659 wants out of that open window and into a larger life, perhaps with the person who has sent the love letter she is reading.
Why? Well, in the mid-17th century (their Golden Age) the Dutch made extensive use of symbolism to communicate meaning. The open window as a symbol of escape is still recognizable but today we probably wouldn't associate the bowl of fruit in the painting's center as a symbol of extramarital relations. The fruit meant just that to the Dutch, and in case you missed the point, originally there was a cupid figure on the wall above her. For unknown reasons Cupid was painted over sometime in the 18th century, but he's about to make a comeback as you'll see shortly.
For a girl who wanted to be part of the world, Vermeer's letter reader has spent much of her time misunderstood or out of sight . Her original owner thought he had purchased a Rembrandt, and later experts attributed her to Pieter de Hooch until attribution was finally restored to Vermeer in 1860. Nearly a century later, she was hidden in a tunnel in Saxony just before the bombing of Dresden in World War II. She was found there by the Russian Army, taken away to Russia and kept behind the Iron Curtain until the Russians decided to return her to Dresden after the death of Stalin.
After all this, in 2017 she was taken off the walls and into the restoration department of the Dresden Museum, The Gemagaldegalerie Alte Meister. Soon, finally, she will be out in that world she longed for in a special exhibition space of her own at the Gemaldegaleri's important upcoming exhibiton of Dutch genre painting.*
She's likely to be much discussed when the show opens in March 2021. It will be a highly publicized, internationally attended, superlative exhibition with 40-50 works by major Dutch genre artists, including 10 particularly fine paintings by Vermeer. Vermeer enthusiasts, expert and laye, will flock to the "new Vermeer" as some are already calling it. And, even though an international committee of experts have created guidelines (including the return of Cupid!) and the Gemaldegalerie's conservation department is topnotch there are sure to be very public disagreements on how Vermeer's letter reader looks when she is unveiled.**
For a girl who longed to shake up the world in the mid-1600's, she certainly got her wish.