May 17, 2011
As you may have guessed after gazing my previous articles, the picture I have been working on during this months has been Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid”. This time, by this article, I will try to develop more in depth the aspects of the picture I analyzed in the 5 minute presentation given in class, so that you can understand the artist, the painting and what goes beyond it. Hope you find it interesting!
The Milkmaid is an oil on canvas painting of 45.5 x 41 cm by the famous Dutch painter we have been studying this semester, Johannes Vermeer. The work shows a kitchen maid performing one of her most ordinary duties: the pouring of milk into a container. The picture is held in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Although the exact year of the painting’s completion is unknown, experts determine the years between 1657-1661 as possible dates.
“The Milkmaid” was painted in a time of great wealth and power in the Netherlands, in which trade, art and science developed so much as to be among the most acclaimed in the world. In 1568 The Seven Provinces that signed the Union of Utretcht started a rebellion against Phillip II of Spain which eventually led to the Eighty Years’ War. Before Spain started to reconquer the Low Countries again, England declared war to Spain. The Eighty Years’ War finally ended with The Peace of Westphalia in 1648, where the peace settlement was signed by Spain and the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. The Dutch East India Company settled a Dutch monopoly on Asian trade which prevailed for two centuries. The Dutch also dominated the trade between European countries, by the year 1680 an average of nearly 1000 Dutch ships crossed the Baltic Sea each year.
As we have learned in class, due to the strong doctrines of Calvinism, the artists of the time were not allowed to depicted sex in their paintings. However, Vermeer, along with other artist of the time, knew how to circumvent the censors by leaving subtle symbols that evoke lust or female sexuality. The pouring of milk might have lascivious connotations, the Dutch word for milk “melken” might also be defined as “to sexually attract”. The milkmaid’s body becomes the center of attraction. It was not only the thickness of her waist that attracted the viewer of the time, but also the contrast between the rough leather sleeves with the nudity of her forearm. It seems that Vermeer was well acquainted with the reputation of milkmaids, who were known for their sexual availability. In the end, it is not only the allusions to female sexuality, but also the depiction of an honest and hard working milkmaid that give the picture its romantic or emotional meaning.
To achieve this level of precision, Vermeer used a sophisticated painting technique which was developed and enhanced throughout his life. At first, in his early works he used a thick impasto paint layer. By using this technique Vermeer puts an emphasis to the materials present in the picture rather than in the characters portrayed. Later he started working with a new technique called “pointillé”, or little dots of paint applied to a canvas in order to obtain a higher level accuracy and detail. Although it is not very clear, some experts maintain that the use of this specific technique along with other visual peculiarities, suggest that Vermeer might have used the “camera obscura”, a precursor to the modern photographic camera, in some of his works.
On the other hand, Vermeer used a few number of pigments if compared to his contemporaries. However, less than twenty pigments have been detected in Vermeer’s works and ten of those seem to have been of regular usage. As an interesting fact, in Vermeer’s time each pigment was differed from the other in terms of permanence, drying time and workability.
The difficulty of painting with these pigments was that many of those were often not compatible with each other and had to be used separately. Although it is unlikely that Vermeer had every pigment in his palette when creating one of his works, it is possible that he had the pigments needed for each part of the painting he was working at.
Vermeer commonly employed seven different types: white lead, yellow ochre, vermillion, red madder, green earth, raw umber and ivory black. A interesting detail to tell is that to paint bluish tones in The Milkmaid, Vermeer used a the pigment ultramarine, which was more expensive and finer than the commonly used azurite.
If we were to analyze the most important parts of the picture, we could start from the face of the milkmaid. it is important to focus on the light coming from the window and reflecting directly upon her face in shadows and pale scales therefore, creating an effect of three-dimensionality. For the face Vermeer used small touches of paint like reddish brown, white, light ocher and brown combined all together. The window becomes another central theme of the picture, providing the portrait with light and luminosity. Vermeer gives importance to little details, thus we can see a broken piece of glass or the irregularity of the window frame.
The basket and the copper pail next to the window are elements related to the thematic of the painting: the pouring milk. Both being objects used when shopping in the market. The basket is painted using the white, ochre and black, which eventually mingle to adapt to the form of the basket’s wicker. The milkmaid’s dress is said to be a winter dress due to the amount of layers it has. She wears a robust leather top and a blue apron over a heavy red wool skirt. Taking a close look at the milkmaid’s garment we can see that it was painted applying thick and quick dabs of yellow and brown pigments to give it the rough texture required ( the impasto technique again).
The jar, the vessel, the pieces of bread on the table and the care with which pours the milk are elements that give great meaning to the final composition. These elements suggest that the woman was making curd; this might be a possible reason to explain why the milkmaid is pouring the milk with such care. The slightly porous texture of the stoneware and the “pointillés” used for painting the bread, give the picture an extraordinary luminosity and lifelikeness.
The decorated tiles in the lower part of the wall behind the milkmaid, served as a skirting that protected the plaster from the daily damage of brooms and were made tiny works of art of the finest porcelain. On one of the tiles a Cupid can be appreciated which leads to two different schools of thought, one supporting an amorous interpretation of it and a more skeptical one, who believes that those Cupid were symbols often used in the Dutch houses of the time.
To end up with this article it must be said that the identity of the milkmaid has been a matter of debate for critics. Some of them have speculated that it was Vermer’s family maid (hrough some documents of 1663 it is known her existence and character). In addition, as some of us have mentioned in our Facebook page “Johannes Vermeer’s influence and inspiration ( a view from Deusto)”, it is largely known that many of Vermeer’s paintings, after having been exposed to X-rays, have revealed some items which were painted over. In the case of the picture I have been analyzing, a clothes basket can be found near the bottom of the painting, behind the maid’s red skirt!
- The Essential Vermeer. May 7, 2011 at 16.00 from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/
- Johannes Vermeer. The Milkmaid. Retrieved. May 2 , 2011 at 21:00 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Milkmaid_(Vermeer)
- Johannes Vermeer. Retrieved. May 2, 2011 at 21.00 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Vermeer
May 17, 2011
The summer of 1658 had just arrived. The inmense heat occupied all the house and made Isabella sweat. She had arrived to that house from a far-away country some weeks ago and as she had not have the chance to study a good career, she had travelled abroad and had arrived to that little town hoping life would smile at her and she would be able to find a decent job. Everyday she tried to serve the familily the best she could, as she really needed the money she was paid for her services.
She did not have more clothes than those she had on the day she had arrived: a red skirt, a white shirt, a yellow sweater, a blue apron and a white headscarf, which helped her to gather her hair and maintain the hygiene in the kitchen. Every night she had to wash everything to put them on again in morning.
Once she got herself washed, she took her milk pot and went walking to a little house in the middle of the countryside in which cows, sheeps and goats grazed. By the time she arrived, the shepherd had already milked his animals and she would buy him the milk of the cows to make breaksfast for the family she worked for. Sometimes, she would also buy the milk of the sheeps and goats with which she would make cheese and curds. She was very good at making desserts. Isabella had learned from her grandmother how to make homemade curd and every Sunday the family had it for lunch. The technique was easy: a) she boiled the milk, b) she poured it into little containers, c) she let it cool, d) she added a drop of rennet in each container, e) she stirred it a little bit and f) she let it thicken.
Next to the house where she worked, there was a farm which grew chicken. She used to go there sometimes and used to buy eggs and some chicken, and as she dare not kill it, she would order it and pick it already stripped the following day.
Once a week it was usual to hear a towncrier in the streets. Who was it? It was a fisherman who with his boat and his rod used to obtain fishes from the sea and the river. When they heard his voice, the town women, Isabella among them, used to run to his encounter to buy some fish. Being Isabella a unbeatable cook, she would prepare different and succulent dishes containing it.
By nine o’clock in the morning the family, that is, the masters and their children, went down from their bedrooms to have breakfast in the dining room: scrambled eggs and milk or coffee. After that, the house would remain empty. The masters and the children would go to church. That was the time of the day in which Isabella would do the houseworks: open the windows to refresh the house, make the beds, sweep the floor of the bedrooms, clean the dust, etc.
The majority of the neighbours worked the land and harvested wheat and corn. In general, all of them owned a vegetable garden where they grew onions, garlic, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, leeks and also fruits like apples, plums and oranges.
In the midst of all those fields a stream ran vividly and when its water arrived to a pile of pebbles, it jumped in such a way that it was a reminiscent of a waterfall.
When Isabella walked the way down the river she would find the mill where the wheat and the corn were crushed and there she would buy the flour to cook bread, cakes and pastries. Later, she would buy the necessary vegetables to prepare Sunday’s lunch.
When the masters and their children arrived home, they would found a delicious meal on their dining room: homemade bread, vegetable soup, chicken and what it was typical of every Sunday, curd with cherry. As the days passed, the masters were happier and happier with Isabella’s work and that is why appart from increasing her salary, they gave her some extra money for her to buy new clothes so that she did not have to wash every night the only ones she had.
Isabella used to save part of her salary with the purpose of visiting her family at least once a year. Another part she saved to send it to her elderly parents, who never did spend it. Instead they would put the money in a little bag waiting for the moment when they would give it back to Isabella.
Isabella lived happily in the house where she worked. When she finished working and the children came back from school, after giving them something to eat, the three of them would play hide-and-seek out in the yard. They would also sit on the swings and she would push them.
The years passed and the day arrived when the children had to go to university and the master of the house had to move to a bigger bank in another country, so the lady of the house quit her job to move with her husband and her children to a new place.. Isabella was already old and felt weak and tired and decided to return back home with her parents. With the money they had collected in that little bag, the three of them went on a trip to visit the capital of their country, where they had not been and which they had not seen before.
May 15, 2011
With the purpose of showing you the presentation I did on Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, I have decided to post it by by using Slidshare, the tool we learned to use last year. Hope you find it interesting!
Slide 2: Background
Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter born in Delft on 31 October 1632. He specialized in exquisite, domestic interior scenes of middle class life. Vermeer was a slightly successful genre painter in his lifetime. He seems never to have been particularly wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.
Since that time, Vermeer’s reputation has grown, and he is now acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.
Slide 3: Painting Technique
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 painter. It is housed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, which esteems it as “unquestionably one of the museum’s finest attractions”.
This painting has “perhaps, the most brilliant color scheme of his oeuvre”, says the Essential Vermeer website.
One of the distinctions of Vermeer’s palette, compared with his contemporaries, was his preference for the expensive natural ultramarine where other painters typically used the much cheaper azurite.
Along with the ultramarine, the lead-tin yellow is also a dominant color in an exceptionally luminous work. 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. This technique consists on leaving the paint on an area of the surface very thickly.
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 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 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.
The woman’s bulky green oversleeves were painted with the same yellow and blue paint used in the rest of the woman’s clothing.
The brilliant blue of the skirt or apron has been intensified with a glaze (a thin, transparent top layer) of the same color.
Slide 5: What does the painting suggest?
Despite its traditional title, the picture clearly shows a maid (a low-ranking servant) in a plain room carefully pouring milk into a container on a table.
Also on the table are various types of bread.
She is a young, sturdily built woman wearing a linen cap, a blue apron and work sleeves pushed up from thick forearms.
The painting is strikingly illusionistic, conveying not just details but a sense of the weight of the woman and the table. 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,” wrote Karen Rosenberg, an art critic for The New York Times.
“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 Museum of Modern 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?’”
Slide 6: Relationship Picture-Poem
In this last slide, I have analised the relationship between the picture of “The Milkmaid” and the poem that went with it in our books and we have been looking at in class with Claire:
The poet takes us back on time to what has been done. It is not a static moment in time.
The picture shows a rude woman, not a delicate or fine one. Everything she touches is hard, crude. There is no flattery at all.
She is holding the jug as if it were a baby, as if she were bathing him.
The maid is an earthy woman, not a delicate one, but she turns into kind of holly or precious when the light shines on her. Light transforms her actions onto something holly, full of grace and admirable.
- Johannes Vermeer. Britannica. Retrieved: May 2, 2011 at 21:00 from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/626156/Johannes-Vermeer
- Johannes Vermeer. The Milkmaid. Retrieved. May 2, 2011 at 21:00 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Milkmaid_(Vermeer)
- Johannes Vermeer. Retrieved. May 2, 2011 at 21.00 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Vermeer
- Slideshare http://www.slideshare.net/
- English for Specific Purposes. Orange Book.