Saturday, 27 February 2010

A 17th century Dutch desk drenched in light and silence

Vermeer: A Lady Writing (Schrijvend meisje) (detail)
c. 1665-1666, oil on canvas, The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

I am widening the field a bit here; I hope that's acceptable. Here is one of several desks that have fascinated me. Virgina Woolf's in her writing shed in Rodmell will probably follow soon, but I shall leave that gem to Sir Arthur (Streeb-Greebling).
This is Vermeer's Lady in Yellow Writing a Letter from c.1657. The sujet of the writing or letter reading female is prominent in 17th c Dutch and Flemish painting, but I always loved this particular one because the girl is looking up at the viewer with the most mysterious facial expression. The golden light coming from the invisible window strikes not just her face and the expensive clothes she is wearing but also her hands. The desk is covered with a thick, sumptuous throw, there is a heavily decorated wooden casket, a band of pearls with a yellow ribbon, writing paper, a quill and, most importantly, utter silence. I always wanted to know what the letter says. The painting also makes me want to put away the computer and make way for old-fashioned letter writing...

Full view.


  1. It is beautiful.
    I gladly take up the challenge to write something about Virginia's desk in the shed, though Rodmell doesn't open until the beginning of April. I shall be queueing outside with my Leica at opening time on 3rd April.
    In the meantime, I am thinking of a post on desks I have known in the past, two in particular which I used as a boy.

  2. Yes this is gorgeous. You are quite right about the hands, they are beautiful. I love the direction you are taking with this blog entry.