Reopening Vermeer’s Love Letter To Contradiction

Kristian Vistrup Madsen at Artforum:

IN DRESDEN, a city renowned for the picture-perfect restoration by which it looks the same and yet entirely strange, an old tale of love and deception is playing out.

Since Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, c. 1657–59, arrived in the Saxon capital from Paris in 1742, a girl in a green dress has been intently studying a letter by pale daylight against a white wall. As other of the Dutch master’s pictures, and indeed many of those made by his contemporaries, tend to do, the unadorned interior offers no clue as to what she might be thinking. Instead, what long impressed viewers about this particular girl was her apparent modernity. She was free, it seemed, of mythology and religion, exemplifying a unity of form and substance, a kind of pure presence. But alas. Now on view at Dresden’s Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister is the remarkable outcome of the painting’s most recent conservation effort. Behind the girl in the green dress is no white wall but the domineering feature of a large painting of Cupid leaning on his bow and stepping on two masks fallen to the ground.

more here.