Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Evidently Portia has a lot of free time today, and so she has thoughtfully supplied the answer to today's exercise.

And what do you know, it really is all about S-E-X!

Portia kindly provided a brighter version of the same painting.
But I still don't see any cake.

I'm restless and frustrated.
Time for CSI Art.

I read recently about a program where New York City detectives were taken (by surprise) to a famed NYC museum to The drill was for them to delve into the scenes depicted in famous and not famous paintings and explain what was going on. It was/is a lesson in observation so vivid that even those already so naturally atuned to soak in every detail found the experience both enlightening and enjoyable. Hell, I say, if it was good enough for the NYPD, than how much damage could I possibly do to the concept?

Tonight's subject: The Letter, by Vermeer.

(click pic for bigger)
What do you see, detective?


portia said...

Woman sitting in a room wearing a yellow skirt and print blouse seated with mandolin/lute in one hand, a letter (no doubt a love letter) is in her other hand. A maid stands behind her wearing a blue skirt tied with white sash, topped with a brown blouse with white collar, and a schmata on her head. A basket is to the seated woman's side filled with white linens --or crumpled copies of earlier letters. On the wall behind them hangs two paintings, the lower painting -some type of seascape or maybe a ship--the top painting a landscape. To the right of the paintings and the tapestry is the marble column of a mantlepiece with white tile inlay. In the forefront of the room sitting on the black and white tiled floor is a broom. A floral drape hangs over the doorway and is pulled to the side. To the right of the doorway is a bed post with a silk and lace peignoir tossed casually over the footboard. Sitting on the floor in front of the down feather bed is a half-eaten rich chocolate cake with buttercream frosting next to some silk unmentionables that the man who wrote the letter tore off the night before, and that the maid either forget to hang up or hide.

Is this some type of psychology test?

Cassandra said...

Well if it is, I'm about to reveal that I'm much less fun than you are, Portia :)

I agree that it's probably a love letter - she looks awfully guilty. But it could also be an unpaid bill. Your 'cake' looks more like a mop to me - it's hard to see, but there seems to be a handle protruding from the top, and the disarray in the painting looks to me like cleaning day. There is something else next to the mop - can't see what it is - something dragged from the closet? A box?

Why is the drape pulled aside? For easy access to the doorway possibly. The wall in the foreground is stained and ugly - it looks more like the inside of a closet than anything else.

My theory: the maid was cleaning. The room in the foreground is storage of some sort, the drape is pulled aside because she or some other domestic has just been in there (witness the mop casually discarded just outside the door). The red object to the front left looks more like a chair to me, and the white things look like papers... more letters? Unpaid bills? The source of the discovered letter in the woman's hand?

Don't know what the blue thing in front of the laundry basket is.

Cassandra said...

Never trust a lefty. The red object to the front *right*. Sorry, I'm very tired, and sick to boot. And I didn't read your description carefully - I'm always in too much of a hurry. I mistook (I think) which object you thought was a cake.

Oh well :) I still like yours better - it's more fun.

Pile On® said...

I see a budding rock star tuning up her axe for a big gig down at the municipal auditorium, while her yes-woman waits on her attentively.

portia said...

Heh. I can "see" food or sex in most anything...and on a good day, food and sex:)

spd rdr said...

If you click on the picture it becomes clearer.

The woman is obviously of some means, judging by her dress and the room's adornments. But her face reveals that she is very surprised, perhaps stunned and embarassed is more like it, at the arrival of the letter. Is the letter bad knews? Perhaps about a philandering husband?

The maid seems a bit surly. She has left her broom and wash basket lying around, which could indicate that there is some sort of resentment at her station in life. Look at brazenly she peaks over her mistress' shoulder. Perhaps the maid already knows the contents and is not so secretly delighted in her mistress' misfortune. I don't see any cake.

portia said...

I don't see any cake
Too bad:)

Curious one that I am, I went a looking for a clearer pic of the letter. Hmmm, so it isn't a buttercream cake in front of the bed, it's sheet music for the lute lessons she's taking; I can't figure out what is next to the sheet music, so I'll stick with silk unmentionables that were ripped off the night before.

I see that the maid left out not only her broom, and the wash basket but a pair of slippers, and what looks like a blue pillow. However, the slight grin on the maid's face belies her surliness. My guess is that she was in the midst of tidying up when the letter arrived, and excitedly dropped everything she was doing to rush it to milady. I agree the maid already knows the contents of the letter, and is openly pleased with the professions of love penned by her mistress' suitor. On the other hand, the look on her mistress' face makes me believe the letter is a bill from the tax collector, and not a suitor. Either that or she has gas or is frigid, or both. In that case, you can delete the part about the ripped silk unmentionables:)

Pooke said...

I see a mirror image of the whole thing, not that I'm looking through a door but at a mirror next to a chair with sheet music on it.

I also see an evil bat with big pointy teeth and an evil oval smiley face at the bottom of the drape. Now I'm going to have to put aluminum foil on my head.

Cassandra said...

Wow. Portia's picture is much clearer, or even if I'd thought to click on the photo as spd suggested I'd have seen more, though I was so beat this morning it might not have mattered. There is a tapestry on the wall to the left, which now perhaps suggests an entry or hallway, and my red thing is definitely a chair or bench/settee.

I thought the mop was a broom at first but the round shape threw me off so I changed my mind and said mop.

That could be a mirror Pooke, but why the drape over it? And what is that crack of light in the background? And the mirror would have to be propped at a very odd angle, jutting out into the room with ? what to support it on the rightward edge? Unless it's in a corner, but then the light is odd and the bench/chair should be angled differently - the right edge more acutely tipped towards us.

But I agree, it does look like a mirror from the light on the edges. Interesting.

Well again, what a boring comment.

Oh. And the two women are having a hot, girl-on-girl affair off-canvas, described in luscious, steamy detail at

spd rdr said...

Hey! That link doesn't work!

I am trying to figure out what is written on what appears to be a tablet of sorts just to the left of the maid. Mccc? Is thaqt the corner of a Fender amp sticking out from behind the mistress?
Where are the light switches?

portia said...

OK, there is no cake...on the floor.

I think you guys are right: what I thought was a bed post is either a chair/settee. Draped across the chair is probably a shawl/throw, and not a peignoir (darn, I love that word). You lost me on the mirror thing. I think we're looking into the room from the hallway, and the crack of light is from a window in the room where they sit.

Makes me want to go to Amsterdam. Now.

portia said...

Maybe the lettering is hhow he signed the painting.

A Fender amp? For the lute? Scary.

portia said...

Wow. Check out this version (open in full screen) of Vermeer's painting. I still think she looks mighty frosty for someone held in the arms of Eros but the detail is breathtaking, nonetheless.

The writing on the wall is where he signed the painting.

spd rdr said...

Size means everything!