Johannes Vermeer Paints Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid
In the corner of a room illuminated by a tall window in the left wall a woman in a pale green dress with white cap and sleeves and pearl earrings sits at a table covered with an oriental carpet writing a letter.
Behind her and to the left stands a maidservant in a more subdued tan and gray outfit with a blue apron. A calm and columnar figure, she crosses her arms and waits while gazing sidelong out the window. Her mistress, in contrast, sets earnestly to her task. The elegant interior features a dark green curtain on the left, black and white marble floor with a skirt of tiles, and a large painting of the Finding of Moses (attributed by some to Peter Lely, who was trained in Haarlem in an ebony frame on the back wall.
Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid is a painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, completed between 1670–1671 and held in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, Ireland. The work shows a middle-class woman attended by a maid who is presumably acting as messenger and go-between for the lady and her lover. The work is seen as a bridge between the quite restraint and self-containment of Vermmer's work of the 1660s and his relatively cooler work of the 1670s.
Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid is the first of the artist's experiments with centrifugal composition; where the focus is not only form the center of the canvas. In addition, it is his third work in which the drama and dynamic is not centered on a single figure. The maid is shown standing in the mid-ground, behind her lady, with her hands crossed and waiting for the letter to be completed. The positions of their bodies indicates that the two women are disconnected. The folded arms of the maid seem outwardly as an attempt to display a sense of self-containment, however she is detached from her lady both emotionally and psychologically. The maid's gaze towards the half-visible window indicates an inner restlessness and boredom, as she waits impatiently for the messenger to carry her lady's letter away. Some art historians dispute the absoluteness of this view; according to Pascal Bonafoux, while complicity is not "indicated by a look or a smile" from either woman, the mere fact of her presence during such an intimate act as the composition of a love letter indicates at least a degree of intimacy between the two.
The painting visits many of Vermeer's usual painterly motifs; in particular his obsession with the inside/outside axis of interior spaces, and through his description of the tiled floor as well as the verticals of the dresses, window frame and back wall painting, his interest in geometry and abstract form. Vermeer had experimented with this painterly device earlier in his career, notably in his View of Delft, The Lacemaker and The Art of Painting.