We asked visitors to imagine the first line of the tantalizing letter in Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, and, wow. Here’s how we imagined the rest, based on a first line by Iris reader Beth:
Dear woman in blue,
Let me tell you of the future.
You will be forgotten. Your name, your age, your family, your home, the child you carry—of them, future generations will know nothing. And it is normal that it be so. For we are ordinary people, not popes and queens for the history books. Of our quietly lived but deeply felt lives, the details slowly fade.
Your image, however, will be immortal. Through it, you will travel far—not by horse and cart, or merchant ship, but through the sky. You will leave your country and go to lands of which you can hardly dream: Peking, the Portuguese colonies (they will call it “Brazil”), that poorly mapped western island of America the Spanish have named California. Illustrious individuals, including Dutch compatriot Vincent van Gogh more than two centuries hence, will draw inspiration from you. There will be wars, and republics, and kings and queens. But in the end, though you will leave your home of Delft, you will not go far—just north to the big city, Amsterdam, whose museum will offer you pride of place forever.
Of you we will remember only one fleeting moment, the cool morning when you unfolded this letter and, filled with emotions we will never tire of guessing, gasped. And for this we are grateful. For this ordinary moment speaks to all of us who seek the extraordinary: to love and be loved.
With deep affection,…
Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, about 1663–64, Johannes Vermeer. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. On loan from the City of Amsterdam (A. van der Hoop Bequest)
I visited the room with Woman in Blue Reading a Letter on my recent trip to the Getty, but there was a crowd, and I’m a dork, so I just gave it a quick look from across the room.
But I love this letter.