Johannes Vermeer (1632 - 1675): The Milkmaid, c. 1658, Oil

3/1/2021, 9:15:30 AM
Johannes Vermeer (1632 - 1675): The Milkmaid, c. 1658, Oil on canvas, 45,5 x 41 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Although the genre of "kitchen pieces" belongs to a long tradition in the Netherlands, Vermeer's realization has nothing in common with his archaic forerunners. His vision is concentrated on a single sturdy figure, which he executes in a robust technique, in keeping with the image that he wants to project. The palette features a subdued colour scheme: white, yellow, and blue. But the colours are far from frank or strident, and are rather toned down, in keeping with the worn work clothes of his model. 'The Milkmaid' depicts a woman servant, kitchen or house maid, pouring milk from a jug, beside a tabletop with bread. In the left foreground the bread and pots rest on a folded Dutch octagonal table, covered with a mid-blue cloth. A wicker basket of bread is nearest the viewer, broken and smaller pieces of different types of bread behind and towards the woman, in the centre. Behind the bread is a dark blue studded mug with pewter lid, and just in front of the woman (to the right of the mug) a brown earthenware pot into which the milk is being poured. An ultramarine blue cloth rests at the edge of the table. The woman, seen in three-quarter view, wears working dress: a stiff, white linen cap, a yellow jacket laced at the front, a brilliant ultramarine blue apron, and a dull red skirt underneath. Her strong-featured face and eyes are cast down, watching the milk as it runs into the pot. The still life in the foreground conveys domestic simplicity, and the light falling in from the left illuminates a bare white kitchen wall, against which the silhouette of the maid stands out. One gains from this deceptively simple scene an impression of inner strength, exclusive concentration on the task at hand, and complete absorption in it. The extensive use of pointillé in the still life lets us presume the use of the inverted telescope in an effort to set off this part of the painting against the main figure and alert the viewer to the contrast between the active humanity of the maid and her inanimate environment.

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