Johannes Vermeer Paints The Love Letter
The subject of this painting is love.
This is evident in the presence of musical references (the instrument held by the woman and the musical score on the chair in the foreground) which were commonly used as a metaphor for harmony between two people and the letter which the young woman holds, undoubtedly from a loved one whom she speaks of with the servant. The painters of interior scenes often included paintings within paintings to clarify the meaning of the composition. In this case the paintings on the end wall, a landscape with a man and woman and a seascape, undoubtedly refer to the absence of the loved one, as in Metsu's painting A Lady Reading a Letter.
The Love Letter (Dutch: De liefdesbrief) is a 17th century painting by Johannes Vermeer. In the painting is a servant maid that hands over a letter to a young woman with a lute. The painting is part of the collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
The tied-up curtain in the foreground creates the impression that the viewer is looking at an intensely private, personal scene. The diagonals on the chequered floor create the impression of depth and three-dimensionality. The fact that it is a love letter that the woman has received is made clear by the fact that she is carrying a lute (more specifically, a cittern, a member of the lute/guitar family). The lute was a symbol of love - often carnal love - in the sixteenth century. This idea is further reinforced by the slippers at the very bottom of the picture. The removed slipper was another symbol of illicit love. The floor brush would appear to represent domesticity, and its placement at the side of the painting may suggest that domestic concerns have been forgotten or pushed aside.
The two paintings on the wall are also significant. The lower painting is of a stormy sea, a clear metaphor for tempestuous love. Above it is a picture of a traveller on a sandy road. This may refer to the absence of the man who is writing to the lady.