The Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window is often interpreted as a highly psychological scene depicting a young girl reading a letter from her lover. Her love is seemingly sinful as evidenced by the apples, the forbidden fruit, because the lover is probably married.

Johannes Vermeer, Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, 1658, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden. Wiki Commons.

Johannes Vermeer, Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, 1658, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden. Wiki Commons.

It is known through x-rays that there was a painting with Cupid that hung on the wall behind her, but was painted out by Vermeer. Her reflection in the window shows some sort of duality or duplicity, and the fruit falls from the bowl on the table, as Eve fell from grace.

The model has also been the subject of much scrutiny. While we do not know exactly who the woman was, many believe it was Vermeer’s wife, Catharina Bolnes. She was sadly left with ten children and huge debts when he died quite suddenly.

However, this simple genre scene is also seen as a secularized religious subject. Even with the removal of the cupid painting, Vermeer could have been re-interpreting the Annunciation with a contemporary vision. The humanistic view of love at this time was not exclusive of divine love.

The apples that are meant to represent Eve’s original sin can also signify the redemptive mission of Jesus, to wash these sins away. The announcement is not delivered by a heavenly host, but instead through contemporary method- a letter. The light and open window from the left are very typical of an Annunciation scene.

Regardless of what Vermeer intended, this girl has seconded herself into a private corner of the home to read the words of a letter that is held tightly. We do not know if the news she is receiving will change her life or if it is one of many she will read that day. But the mystery gives her a special secret that she is lucky to have and we are privileged to witness.

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