May 1, 2009
1. The kitchen maid
With quiet concentration a woman pours milk into a bowl. With her left hand she supports the can she is pouring from. Around her are various objects: a loaf of bread, stoneware. Stoneware is made of clay that produces a grey or brown colour and is fired at a temperature of around 1250 degrees Celsius. It is exceptionally hard and only slightly porous. Moreover, stoneware does not acquire a taste and is easy to clean. It is therefore an ideal material in which to preserve liquids and from which to drink. Around 1300 stoneware acquired something of a mass market and remained popular until glass and delftware took its place in the 17th century. Sixteenth- and 17th- century stoneware is often decorated with reliefs. One of the centres of stoneware production was the area between Cologne and Aachen in Germany’s Rhineland. jug, a basket and a brass bucket. The woman is standing near the window so she can see what she is doing. The light falls on her hands; her silhouette is dark against the white wall. There is a fascinating play of light and shadow in this painting. This is one of Johannes Vermeer’s genre pieces in which he establishes an intensely intimate atmosphere. Although the artist observes his model from nearby, she continues with her work, totally unperturbed
2. Subtle lighting
The lighting in Vermeer’s ‘Milkmaid’ is extraordinarily subtle. Light falls from the left through the window. Beneath and beside the window it is somewhat shadowy, but the woman is standing in full brightness. When you look carefully at the painting you see that Vermeer has introduced tiny points of light all over the canvas: on the edges of the jug and the bowl, but also on the fastening of her yellow dress, and on the bread in the basket. Vermeer paid great attention to details. He has painted tiny rough patches into the texture of the white plasterwork. Also, he gives careful thought to a nail set high in the white wall, as well as to the light entering through a cracked windowpane. The structure of various objects is expertly rendered: gleaming brass and crumbly bread.
Clearly, this woman is a servant and no grand lady. Her dress is simple. The blue skirt is tucked up to save it from getting dirty. She wears green over-sleeves which partly protect her yellow bodice. On her head the maid wears a starched cap. She looks strong and sturdy. Vermeer achieves this effect by painting her from a low viewpoint. This lends a certain weight and dignity to this simple and everyday subject – a woman at her work.
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