|Year||c. 1657–1658 (though estimates differ)|
|Medium||(Paint) Oil Paint on Canvas|
|Dimensions||H 45.5 cm× W 41 cm(17 7⁄8 in× 16 1⁄8 in)|
|Location||Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands|
The Milkmaid (Dutch: De Melkmeid or Het Melkmeisje), sometimes called The Kitchen Maid, is an oil-on-canvas painting of a "milkmaid", in fact, a domestic kitchen maid, by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. It is now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, which regards it as "unquestionably one of the museum's finest attractions".
Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments with a medium of drying oil as the binder. Commonly used drying oils include linseed oil, poppy seed oil, walnut oil, and safflower oil. The choice of oil imparts a range of properties to the oil paint, such as the amount of yellowing or drying time. Certain differences, depending on the oil, are also visible in the sheen of the paints. An artist might use several different oils in the same painting depending on specific pigments and effects desired. The paints themselves also develop a particular consistency depending on the medium. The oil may be boiled with a resin, such as pine resin or frankincense, to create a varnish prized for its body and gloss.
A kitchen maid or kitchen girl is a young housemaid, or other junior female domestic worker.
The Netherlands, sometimes mislabeled as Holland, is a country in Northwestern Europe with some overseas territories in the Caribbean. In Europe, it consists of 12 provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with those countries and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba—it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian. In the northern parts of the country, Low Saxon is also spoken.
The exact year of the painting's completion is unknown, with estimates varying by source. The Rijksmuseum estimates it as circa 1658. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, it was painted in about 1657 or 1658. –1661.The "Essential Vermeer" website gives a broader range of 1658
The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City, colloquially "the Met", is the largest art museum in the United States. With 6,953,927 visitors to its three locations in 2018, it was the third most visited art museum in the world. Its permanent collection contains over two million works, divided among seventeen curatorial departments. The main building, on the eastern edge of Central Park along Museum Mile in Manhattan's Upper East Side is by area one of the world's largest art galleries. A much smaller second location, The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan, contains an extensive collection of art, architecture, and artifacts from medieval Europe. On March 18, 2016, the museum opened the Met Breuer museum at Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side; it extends the museum's modern and contemporary art program.
The painting shows a milkmaid, a woman who milks cows and makes dairy products like butter and cheese, in a plain room carefully pouring milk into a squat earthenware container on a table. Milkmaids began working solely in the stables before large houses hired them to do housework as well rather than hiring out for more staff. Also on the table in front of the milkmaid are various types of bread. She is a young, sturdily built woman wearing a crisp linen cap, a blue apron and work sleeves pushed up from thick forearms. A foot warmer is on the floor behind her, near Delft wall tiles depicting Cupid (to the viewer's left) and a figure with a pole (to the right). Intense light streams from the window on the left side of the canvas.
Delftware or Delft pottery, also known as Delft Blue, is a general term now used for Dutch tin-glazed earthenware, a form of faience. Most of it is blue and white pottery, and the city of Delft in the Netherlands was the major centre of production, but the term covers wares with other colours, and made elsewhere. It is also used for similar pottery that it influenced made in England, but this should be called English delftware to avoid confusion.
In classical mythology, Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars. He is also known in Latin as Amor ("Love"). His Greek counterpart is Eros. Although Eros is generally portrayed as a slender winged youth in Classical Greek art, during the Hellenistic period, he was increasingly portrayed as a chubby boy. During this time, his iconography acquired the bow and arrow that represent his source of power: a person, or even a deity, who is shot by Cupid's arrow is filled with uncontrollable desire. In myths, Cupid is a minor character who serves mostly to set the plot in motion. He is a main character only in the tale of Cupid and Psyche, when wounded by his own weapons, he experiences the ordeal of love. Although other extended stories are not told about him, his tradition is rich in poetic themes and visual scenarios, such as "Love conquers all" and the retaliatory punishment or torture of Cupid.
A window is an opening in a wall, door, roof or vehicle that allows the passage of light, sound, and sometimes air. Modern windows are usually glazed or covered in some other transparent or translucent material, a sash set in a frame in the opening; the sash and frame are also referred to as a window. Many glazed windows may be opened, to allow ventilation, or closed, to exclude inclement weather. Windows often have a latch or similar mechanism to lock the window shut or to hold it open by various amounts.
The painting is strikingly illusionistic, conveying not just details but a sense of the weight of the woman and the table. "The light, though bright, doesn't wash out the rough texture of the bread crusts or flatten the volumes of the maid's thick waist and rounded shoulders", wrote Karen Rosenberg, an art critic for The New York Times . Yet with half of the woman's face in shadow, it is "impossible to tell whether her downcast eyes and pursed lips express wistfulness or concentration," she wrote.
An art critic is a person who is specialized in analyzing, interpreting and evaluating art. Their written critiques or reviews contribute to art criticism and they are published in newspapers, magazines, books, exhibition brochures and catalogues and on web sites. Some of today's art critics use art blogs and other online platforms in order to connect with a wider audience and expand debate about art.
The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 127 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 18th in the world by circulation and 3rd in the U.S.
"It's a little bit of a Mona Lisa effect" in modern viewers' reactions to the painting, according to Walter Liedtke, curator of the department of European paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and organizer of two Vermeer exhibits. "There's a bit of mystery about her for modern audiences. She is going about her daily task, faintly smiling. And our reaction is 'What is she thinking?'"
The Mona Lisa is a half-length portrait painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci that has been described as "the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world." The Mona Lisa is also one of the most valuable paintings in the world. It holds the Guinness World Record for the highest known insurance valuation in history at US$100 million in 1962.
Walter Arthur Liedtke, Jr. was an American art historian, writer and Curator of Dutch and Flemish Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was known as one of the world's leading scholars of Dutch and Flemish paintings. He died in the 2015 Metro-North Valhalla train crash.
A curator is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution is a content specialist charged with an institution's collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material.
The woman would have been known as a "kitchen maid" or maid-of-all-work rather than a specialised "milkmaid" at the time the painting was created: "milk maids" were women who milked cows; kitchen maids worked in kitchens.For at least two centuries before the painting was created, milkmaids and kitchen maids had a reputation as being predisposed to love or sex, and this was frequently reflected in Dutch paintings of kitchen and market scenes from Antwerp, Utrecht and Delft. Some of the paintings were slyly suggestive, like The Milkmaid, others more coarsely so.
A maid, or housemaid or maidservant, is a female domestic worker. Although now usually found only in the most wealthy of households, in the Victorian era domestic service was the second largest category of employment in England and Wales, after agricultural work.
A milkmaid was a girl or woman who milked cows. She also used the milk to prepare dairy products such as cream, butter, and cheese. Many large houses employed milkmaids instead of having other staff do the work. The term milkmaid is not the female equivalent of milkman in the sense of one who delivers milk to the consumer; it is the female equivalent of milkman in the sense of cowman.
Antwerp is a city in Belgium, and is the capital of Antwerp province in Flanders. With a population of 520,504, it is the most populous city proper in Belgium, and with a metropolitan area housing around 1,200,000 people, it's the second largest metropolitan region after Brussels in Belgium.
The leading artists in this tradition were the Antwerp painters Joachim Beuckelaer (c. 1535–1575) and Frans Snyders (1579–1657), who had many followers and imitators, as well as Pieter Aertsen (who, like Beukelaer, had clients in Delft), the Utrecht Mannerist painter Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638), and his son, Peter Wtewael (1596–1660).Closer to Vermeer's day, Nicolaes Maes painted several comic pictures now given titles such as The Lazy Servant. However by this time there was an alternative convention of painting women at work in the home as exemplars of Dutch domestic virtue, dealt with at length by Simon Schama.
In Dutch literature and paintings of Vermeer's time, maids were often depicted as subjects of male desire—dangerous women threatening the honor and security of the home, the center of Dutch life—although some Vermeer contemporaries, such as Pieter de Hooch, had started to represent them in a more neutral way, as did Michael Sweerts. Vermeer's painting is one of the rare examples of a maid treated in an empathetic and dignified way,although amorous symbols in this work still exemplify the tradition.
Other painters in this tradition, such as Gerrit Dou (1613–1675), depicted attractive maids with symbolic objects such as jugs and various forms of game and produce. — or so the direction of view suggests — an intimate glimpse of some vaguely uterine object," according to Liedtke. In Dou's 1646 painting, Girl Chopping Onions (now in the British Royal Collection), a pewter tankard may refer to both male and female anatomy, and the picture contains other contemporary symbols of lust, such as onions (said to have aphrodisical properties), and a dangling bird. Milk also had lewd connotations, from the slang term melken, defined as "to sexually attract or lure" (a meaning that may have originated from watching farm girls working under cows, according to Liedtke). Examples of works using milk this way include Lucas van Leyden's engraving The Milkmaid (1510) and Jacques de Gheyn II's engraving The Archer and the Milkmaid (about 1610)."In almost all the works of this tradition there is an erotic element, which is conveyed through gestures ranging from jamming chickens onto spits to gently offering
Vermeer's painting is even more understated, although the use of symbols remains: one of the Delft tiles at the foot of the wall behind the maid, near the foot warmer, depicts Cupid – which can imply arousal of a woman or simply that while she is working she is daydreaming about a man. Other amorous symbols in the painting include a wide-mouthed jug, often used as a symbol of the female anatomy. The foot warmer was often used by artists as a symbol for female sexual arousal because, when placed under a skirt, it heats the whole body below the waist, according to Liedtke. The coals enclosed inside the foot warmer could symbolize "either the heat of lust in tavern or brothel scenes, or the hidden but true burning passion of a woman for her husband", according to Serena Cant, a British art historian and lecturer. Yet the whitewashed wall and presence of milk seem to indicate that the room was a "cool kitchen" used for cooking with dairy products, such as milk and butter, so the foot warmer would have a pragmatic purpose there. Since other Dutch paintings of the period indicate that foot warmers were used when seated, its presence in the picture may symbolize the standing woman's "hardworking nature", according to Cant.
The painting is part of a social context of the sexual or romantic interactions of maids and men of higher social ranks that has now disappeared in Europe and never commonly recognized in America, according to Liedtke, who offers as an example Vermeer's contemporary, Samuel Pepys, whose diary records encounters with kitchen maids, oyster girls and, at an inn during a 1660 visit to Delft, with "an exceedingly pretty lass and right for the sport". The painting was first owned by (and may have been painted for) Pieter van Ruijven, owner of several other paintings by Vermeer which also depicted attractive young women and with themes of desire and self-denial quite different from the attitude of Pepys and many of the paintings in the Dutch "kitchenmaid" tradition.
In Dutch, Het Melkmeisje is the painting's most-used name. Although this title is less accurate in modern Dutch, the word "meid" (maid) has gained a negative tone that is not present in its diminutive form ("meisje")—hence the use of the more friendly title for the work, used by the Rijksmuseum and others.
According to art historian Harry Rand, the painting suggests the woman is making bread pudding, which would account for the milk and the broken pieces of bread on the table. Rand assumed she would have already made custard in which the bread mixed with egg would be soaking at the moment depicted in the painting. She pours milk into the Dutch oven to cover the mixture because otherwise the bread, if not simmering in liquid while it is baking, will become an unappetizing, dry crust instead of forming the typical upper surface of the pudding. She is careful in pouring the trickle of milk because bread pudding can be ruined when the ingredients are not accurately measured or properly combined.
By depicting the working maid in the act of careful cooking, the artist presents not just a picture of an everyday scene, but one with ethical and social value. The humble woman is using common ingredients and otherwise useless stale bread to create a pleasurable product for the household. "Her measured demeanor, modest dress and judiciousness in preparing her food conveys eloquently yet unobtrusively one of the strongest values of 17th-century Netherlands, domestic virtue", according to the Essential Vermeer website.
"In the end, it is not the allusions to female sexuality that give this painting its romance or emotional resonance — it is the depiction of honest, hard work as something romantic in and of itself," Raquel Laneri wrote in Forbes magazine. "The Milkmaid elevates the drudgery of housework and servitude to virtuous, even heroic, levels."
An impression of monumentality and "perhaps a sense of dignity" is lent to the image by the artist's choice of a relatively low vantage point and a pyramidal building up of forms from the left foreground to the woman's head, according to a web page of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.According to the Rijksmuseum, the painting "is built up along two diagonal lines. They meet by the woman's right wrist." This focuses the attention of the viewer on the pouring of the milk.
The photograph-like realism of the painting resembles that of Leiden artists such as Dou, Frans van Mieris, and Gabriël Metsu.Vermeer, who was age twenty-five when he painted this work, was "shopping around in Dutch art for different styles and subjects", according to Liedtke. "He's looking, in this case, mainly at artists like Gerrit Dou and others who work in a meticulous, illusionistic way." Liedtke sees the work as either Vermeer's "last early work or first mature work". The curator added, "I almost think he had to explore what you might call 'tactile illusionism' to understand where he really wanted to go, which was in the more optical, light-filled direction."
Characteristic of Delft artistry and of Vermeer's work, the painting also has a "classic balance" of figurative elements and an "extraordinary treatment of light", according to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. —that recession from the left and then the openness to the right—and this sort of left-corner scheme was used for about 10 years before Vermeer, and he was very quick to pick up the latest thing."The wall on the left, according to Liedtke, "gets you very quickly in the picture
"Nowhere else in his oeuvre does one find such a sculptural figure and such seemingly tangible objects, and yet the future painter of luminous interiors has already arrived," according to the museum. The " pointillé pattern of bright dots on the bread and basket" are the "most effusive" use of that scheme in any Vermeer painting, and it appears to be used to suggest "scintillating daylight and rough textures at the same time."
Vermeer painted over two items originally in the painting. One was a large wall map (a Rijksmuseum web page calls it a painting)behind the upper part of the woman's body. (A wall map may not have been very out of place in a humble workroom such as the cold kitchen where the maid toiled: large maps in 17th-century Holland were inexpensive ways of decorating bare walls.) He originally placed a large, conspicuous clothes basket (the Rijksmuseum web page calls it a "sewing basket") near the bottom of the painting, behind the maid's red skirt, but then the artist painted it over, producing the slight shift in tone (pentimento) on the wall behind the foot warmer. The basket was later discovered with an X-ray. Other Vermeer paintings also have images removed. Some art critics have thought the removals may have been intended to provide the works with better thematic focus.
"[I]ts rustic immediacy differs from Vermeer's later paintings," according to Laneri. "There is a tactile, visceral quality to The Milkmaid— you can almost taste the thick, creamy milk escaping the jug, feel the cool dampness of the room and the starchy linen of the maid's white cap, touch her sculptural shoulders and corseted waist. She is not an apparition or abstraction. She is not the ideal, worldly housewife of Vermeer's later Young Woman with a Water Pitcher or the ethereal beauty in Girl with a Pearl Earring . She is not the cartoonish buxom vixen in Leyden's drawing. She is real — as real as a painting can get anyway."
This painting has "perhaps, the most brilliant color scheme of his oeuvre", according to the Essential Vermeer website. Already in the 18th century, English painter and critic Joshua Reynolds praised the work for its striking quality.One of the distinctions of Vermeer's palette, compared with his contemporaries, was his preference for the expensive natural ultramarine (made from crushed lapis lazuli) where other painters typically used the much cheaper azurite. Along with the ultramarine, lead-tin-yellow is also a dominant color in an exceptionally luminous work (with a much less somber and conventional rendering of light than any of Vermeer's previous extant works). Depicting white walls was a challenge for artists in Vermeer's time, with his contemporaries using various forms of gray pigment. Here the white walls reflect the daylight with different intensities, displaying the effects of uneven textures on the plastered surfaces. The artist here used white lead, umber and charcoal black. Although the formula was widely known among Vermeer's contemporary genre painters, "perhaps no artist more than Vermeer was able to use it so effectively", according to the Essential Vermeer website.
The woman's coarse features are painted with thick dabs of impasto . The seeds on the crust of the bread, as well as the crust itself, along with the plaited handles of the bread basket, are rendered with pointillé dots. Soft parts of the bread are rendered with thin swirls of paint, with dabs of ochre used to show the rough edges of broken crust. One piece of bread to the viewer's right and close to the Dutch oven, has a broad band of yellow, different from the crust, which Cant believes is a suggestion that the piece is going stale. The small roll at the far right has thick impastoed dots that resemble a knobbly crust or a crust with seeds on it. The bread and basket, despite being closer to the viewer, are painted in a more diffuse way than the illusionistic realism of the wall, with its stains, shadowing, nail and nail hole, or the seams and fastenings of the woman's dress, the gleaming, polished brass container hanging from the wall. The panes of glass in the window are varied in a very realistic way, with a crack in one (fourth row from the bottom, far right) reflected on the wood of the window frame. Just below that pane, another has a scratch, indicated with a thin white line. Another pane (second row from the bottom, second from right) is pushed inward within its frame.
The discrepancy between objects at various distances from the viewer may indicate Vermeer used a camera obscura , according to Cant.Liedtke points out that a pinhole discovered in the canvas "has really punctured the theory of the camera obscura [...] The idea that Vermeer traced compositions in an optical device [...] is rather naive when you consider that the light lasts maybe 10 seconds, but the painting took at least months to paint." Instead, The pin in the canvas would have been tied to a string with chalk on it, which the painter would have snapped to get perspective lines, Liedtke said in a 2009 interview.
The woman's bulky green oversleeves were painted with the same yellow and blue paint used in the rest of the woman's clothing, worked at the same time in a wet-on-wet method. Broad strokes in the painting of the clothing suggests coarse, thick texture of the work clothing. The blue cuff uses a lighter mixture of ultramarine and lead-white, together with a layer of ochre painted beneath it. The brilliant blue of the skirt or apron has been intensified with a glaze (a thin, transparent top layer) of the same color. The glazing helps suggest that the blue material is a less coarse fabric than the yellow bodice, according to Cant.
Pieter van Ruijven (1624–1674), Vermeer's patron in Delft (and, at his death, the owner of twenty-one of the painter's works), probably bought the painting directly from the artist. Liedtke doubts that the patron ordered the subject matter. –1681), and certainly to Van Ruijven's son-in-law, Jacob Dissius (1653–1695), whose estate sold it with other paintings by the artist in 1696. Records of that sale described The Milkmaid as "exceptionally good", and the work brought the second-highest price in the sale (175 guilders, exceeded only by the 200 guilders paid for Vermeer's cityscape, View of Delft . )Ownership later passed on, perhaps to his widow, Maria de Knuijt, probably their daughter, Magdelene van Ruijven (1655
In 1765 the painting was auctioned by Leendert Pieter de Neufville. — but not before a good deal of public squabbling and the intervention of the States-General or Dutch parliament."The famous milkmaid, by Vermeer of Delft, artful", went through at least five Amsterdam collections before it became part of what The Metropolitan Museum of Art called "one of the great collectors of Dutch art", that of Lucretia Johanna van Winter (1785–1845). In 1822 she married into the Six family of collectors, and in 1908 her two sons sold the painting (as part of the famous Six collection of thirty-nine works) to the Rijksmuseum, which acquired the works with support from the Dutch government and the Rembrandt Society
The painting has been exhibited in western Europe and in the United States. In 1872 it was part of an Amsterdam exhibition of "old masters" ("Tentoonstelling van zeldzame en belangrijke schilderijen van oude meesters"), for Arti et Amicitiae, a society of visual artists and art lovers, and in 1900 it was part of an exhibition at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Other European exhibits showing the work include the Royal Academy of Arts ("Exhibition of Dutch Art", London) in 1929; Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume ("Exposition hollandaise: Tableaux, aquarelles et dessíns anciens et modernes", Paris) in 1921; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen ("Vermeer, oorsprong en invloed: Fabritius, De Hooch, De Witte", Rotterdam) in 1935.
It was exhibited at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City,and the outbreak of World War II during the fair – with the German occupation of the Netherlands – caused the work to remain in the U.S. until Holland was liberated. During this time it was displayed at the Detroit Institute of Arts in Michigan (the museum where the curator of the World's Fair exhibit was working), and was included in that museum's exhibition catalogues in 1939 and 1941. During the war, the work was also displayed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it was hanging as late as 1944, according to Leidtke. In 1953, the Kunsthaus Zürich displayed the painting in an exhibition, and the next year it traveled to Italy for an exhibition at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome and the Palazzo Reale in Milan. In 1966, it was part of an exhibition at the Mauritshuis in the Hague and the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris. In 1999 and 2000 the painting was at the National Gallery of Art in Washington for its exhibition "Johannes Vermeer: The Art of Painting", and it was part of the "Vermeer and the Delft School" exhibition at the National Gallery, London from June 20 to September 16, 2001 (it did not appear at the Metropolitan Museum of Art venue of that exhibition, earlier that year).
The painting returned to New York in 2009, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's historic voyage (Amsterdam to Manhattan), where it was the central feature of a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, alongside several of the museum's five Vermeer works and other Dutch Golden Age paintings.
The painting was exhibited online in a high-quality digital version after museum curators found that many people thought that a low-quality yellowed version of the image which was circulating on the Internet was a good reproduction of the image.
Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime but evidently was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.
Carel Pietersz. Fabritius was a Dutch painter. He was a pupil of Rembrandt and worked in his studio in Amsterdam. Fabritius, who was a member of the Delft School, developed his own artistic style and experimented with perspective and lighting. Among his works are A View of Delft (1652), The Goldfinch (1654), and The Sentry (1654).
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