Behind my muse Vermeer: spicy symbolism behind his painting The Love Letter
- 11 February 2023
Did you know the girl in Vermeer’s Love Letter is expecting a child? There is some spicy symbolism that you won’t hear in a museum, but I’ll reveal it here. How do we know she’s expecting? Why is there a broom? And why is it in such a noticeable place, yet in the dark? What is Vermeer trying to say with this? Is it possibly depicting a taboo?
To begin, it’s important to remember that symbolism was popular in the 17th century. Vermeer’s audience was made up of well-educated intellectuals. Only they could decrypt his paintings’ hidden meanings. What set Vermeer apart from his contemporaries? This was used this in his genre paintings, which depicted everyday life.
How do we know the girl is pregnant? It is generally believed that the seascape painting in the back represents love life because the sea is associated with it. However, it is less well known that the lute is a pregnancy symbol. The Love Letter is delivered from the left, representing the west. This obviously refers to the sea. The previously mentioned seascape dominantly depicts a boat (almost cropped), and a boat was the symbol of a lover. As a result, she must have gotten pregnant from a sailor.
And now that we know this, we can understand the aforementioned spiciness. The broom refers to an old Dutch expression “over de bezem getrouwd zijn”, which is Dutch for “being married over the broom”. This means “living together unmarried”. This was very taboo in Vermeer’s time, which is probably why the broom is prominently displayed, yet in the dark.