Thank you to Joy of Museums for this wonderful commentary on Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window.
“Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” by Johannes Vermeer depicts a young blonde girl standing in the light of an open window, reading a letter. A red drapery hangs over the top of the window, which has opened inward and which, in its lower right quadrant, reflects the girl’s mirror image. A tasselled ochre drapery in the foreground right, partially closed, covers part of the room in which she stands. Fruit in a tilted bowl, on the luxurious carpet that drapes table, and the peach which is cut in half, are all highlighted by the light from the window.
Scientific test and x-rays of the canvas have demonstrated that at one point Vermeer had featured a naked Cupid on the wall in this painting. For whatever reason, somebody the 18th century painted over the cupid image with the empty blank wall featured in this image of the painting. The museum has decided to restore Vermeer’s original and restorators have now removed the overpainted layer, and the original Cupid can now be seen in this painting at the museum. Vermeer had depicted a standing Cupid holding a raised bow with his right hand and lifting his left arm. The painting can now again be seen as it left the artist’s studio.
Art historians suggest that the fruit in a tilted bowl and the peach which is cut in half, revealing its pit, symbolise an extramarital relationship and that the letter is a love letter. Now that the cupid image has been revealed, is this theory confirmed? Or is she sad because the relationship has ended?
Art as a Casualty of War
“Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” was among the paintings rescued from destruction during the bombing of Dresden in World War II. When World War II was imminent in 1938, the museum was closed, and the painting was stored, with other works of art, in an underground tunnel in Saxony. Discovered by the Red Army in 1945 they were taken to Russia. After the death of Joseph Stalin, the Soviets in 1955 returned the surviving art to Germany.
Most of the essential paintings from the Old Masters Gallery survived this period, but the losses were significant. Over 200 pictures had been destroyed, and some 450 are still missing today.