The Milkmaid, 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, the exact year of the paintings 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. The Essential Vermeer website gives a range of 1658–1661. Also on the table are various types of bread and 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, intense light streams from the window on the left side of the canvas. The painting is strikingly illusionistic, conveying not just details but a sense of the weight of the woman, yet with half of the womans face in shadow, it is impossible to tell whether her downcast eyes and pursed lips express wistfulness or concentration, she wrote. Theres a bit of mystery about her for modern audiences and she is going about her daily task, faintly smiling. And our reaction is What is she thinking, some of the paintings were slyly suggestive, like The Milkmaid, others more coarsely so. Closer to Vermeers 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. Vermeers painting is one of the examples of a maid treated in an empathetic and dignified way. Other painters in this tradition, such as Gerrit Dou, depicted attractive maids with symbolic objects such as jugs and various forms of game, milk also had lewd connotations, from the slang term melken, defined as to sexually attract or lure. Examples of works using milk this way include Lucas van Leydens engraving The Milkmaid and Jacques de Gheyn IIs engraving The Archer, 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 sexual arousal because. Since other Dutch paintings of the period indicate that foot warmers were used when seated, its presence in the picture may symbolize the standing womans hardworking nature, in Dutch, Het Melkmeisje is the paintings most-used name. According to art historian Harry Rand, the painting suggests the woman is making bread pudding, which would account for the milk, 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 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 cooking, the artist presents not just a picture of an everyday scene
Image: Johannes Vermeer Het melkmeisje Google Art Project
Painting detail showing the foot warmer, with tiles of Cupid and a man with a pole on either side of it; the clothes basket Vermeer removed from the painting was here. Also shown is a detail from the maid's brilliant blue dress.
A 1907 Dutch cartoon by Jan Rinke, reflecting a controversy over whether the state should purchase the painting rather than let it possibly fall into the hands of some rich American art collector. The government bought the work for the Rijksmuseum.