Vermeer is acknowledged as one of the most mysterious of artists. Typical of his works was intimate glimpses of the relationship between two people, his meticulous observations of light and his precise handling of color. As well as being visually seductive, his works are full of emblems and allusions relating to contemporary life.

With their newly found political and cultural freedom, Dutch artists developed new subjects for painting, which were avidly collected by the emerging middle classes. All of them (landscape, still life, and genre ) celebrated the appearance and lifestyle of the new republic and ignored the old traditions of religious and historical painting which otherwise dominated the art of the Catholic monarchies. Genre scenes were small scale depictions of domestic interiors that spelled out a moral or political message.

In this painting the model represents the Muse of History, Clio, whose attributes are the wreath of laurel and a book in which she records all heroic deeds. Clio carries a trumpet in her right hand, symbolizing the fame that can be achieved by an artist. By showing the artist inspired by a muse, Vermeer confirms the place of painting as a liberal art. The chandelier is decorated with the Hapsburg double eagle and is shown here without candles--to remind the viewer that the power of the Hapsburgs (the Spanish Royal Family) is waning. The Northern Dutch provinces gained independence from Spanish rule by the Treaty of Munster in 1648.

If one studies the map carefully it will be noted that a vertical crease exists marking the frontier between Protestant Holland and Catholic Flanders, the latter still under the control and cultural influence of Spain.

This painting was confiscated by Adolf Hitler who hung it in his private rooms at Berchtesgaden (note Hitler's first training was as a painter).