Having just read (and reviewed on this website) the catalogues of the two currently running exhibitions of the Dutch genre art of Vermeer's time ("Vermeer's Women: Secrets and Silence" and "Human Connections in the Age of Vermeer"), I decided to purchase this volume also, since it treats the same general area and is also a recent catalogue. In this case, the exhibition was mounted at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut and the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin in 2003. The book has very solid credentials. Peter C. Sutton, the major contributor, is Executive Director of the Bruce and has published many books on seventeenth-century Dutch art, including the standard work on Pieter de Hooch. There are articles by the well known Rubens scholar Lisa Vergara, Professor of Baroque Art at the City University of New York, and by Ann Jensen Adams, who has written extensively on Rembrandt and Golden Age portraiture and is Professor of Art History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Shorter contributions are by Jennifer Kilian, the author of the standard book on and catalogue raisonne of the oeuvre of Karel du Jardin and by Marjorie Wiesemann, editor of the "Vermeer's Women" catalogue, so we are assured of first-rate scholarship, and it's fascinating. The first of the two books mentioned above dealt with women in their personal spaces, and many were depicted as reading or writing private letters; the second had to do with communication of various kinds, much of it of course epistolary. The current volume conflates the two themes, and although there are some pictures of lawyers reading documents and men reading and writing letters, the majority are of women either alone or with their maids in private spaces, writing or reading letters or suffering the consequences of having received them. Dr. Sutton's introductory essay leads us through the development of the genre from about 1630 to the last decades of the century, and the roughly chronological arrangement of the catalogue enables us easily to follow the introduction of new motifs and iconography in the paintings and to appreciate the way the settings become ever grander and more elegant under the influence of French models and in keeping with the increasing prosperity of the people. This essay also touches on related matters, such as the development of the Dutch postal system; the production of manuals to teach people how to write letters for specific occasions; the "secularization" of the Petrarchan ideal of love; the rise of the epistolary novel, etc. Lisa Vergara concentrates on Vermeer's six paintings of women (all of them of courtship age) writing or reading letters and looks in part at the implied relationships between these young women and their maids, who have apparently either just delivered the missives or are waiting to take charge of the replies. She actually refers to these paintings as a "series" (55) and makes the interesting suggestion that the "Woman in Blue Reading a Letter" may well be (at least in Vermeer's mind) the same person at a later stage as the "Young Woman Reading a Letter"--for Dr. Vergara there is no question that the woman in blue is pregnant, despite some commentators' belief that the obvious rotundity of her abdomen is due to the kind of house-jacket she is wearing. Ann Jensen Adams points out in her essay that it was only in the course of the seventeenth century that letters came to be regarded as private communications not intended for public consumption, as they had generally been earlier, when whole correspondences were published either by the writers themselves or, sometimes, in pirated editions. That evolution is all of a piece with the emergence of a sense of a private place, a personal space of the sort celebrated in the genre paintings collected in the catalogue. She presents fascinating information on the way letters were written physically, i.e., on handwriting itself: not only was there an abundance of books on how to write certain kinds of letters; there was also no lack of manuals of instruction in the very art of handwriting. The practice and prestige of calligraphy reached such a high point in the first half of the century that individual sheets of especially beautiful handwriting were displayed in Dutch homes next to the paintings on the walls. The truly experienced letter-writer was expected to be able to write in several scripts: just as different typefaces were used in the printing of different kinds of documents, different scripts were associated with different epistolary occasions. There was a decorum of handwriting just as serious as any dress code; the script in which a letter was written was expected to be corollated to the content and occasion and carried very specific associations that located the writer (and recipient) within a highly coded matrix of social relationships. All this extremely interesting discussion is superbly visually supported. The essay pages are lavishly illustrated with excellent examples, and the catalogue itself is a delight. Each of the nineteen artists exhibited is introduced by a brief biographical sketch. There are forty-four excellently printed full-page reproductions with extensive apparatus including provenance, prior exhibitions and specialized literature, each accompanied by a detailed annotation by at least one of the contributors and amplified by many details and comparison illustrations. This is a great complement to the two volumes mentioned earlier and a distinguished addition to the literature devoted to this area.