Women in Vermeer´s paintings.

Most of Vermeer´s paintings that show women activities can be include in the criticism of addictions. With the demonstration of the mistaken behavior of the figures represented – following the funny way of the comedy- they tried to educate women to be virtuous, that is to say, so as what they thought and behaved agreed with the rules.

On the opposite case, the education through the “positive” model that presents the code of the official behavior on the base of an “exemplum virtutis” is limited in comparison.


The Milkmaid.

The most famous of this group is “The Milkmaid” (top picture). This painting enjoyed very early of a special estimation, as the prize paid shows.

The serfdom is normally represented as laggard on the Holland pictures. On the other hand, we have some paintings as “A Maid piquing onions” (1646); the attributes of the onion (as aphrodisiac), and the chicken hanging (traditionally this is a sign of appetite) justify the lascivious interpretation of the painting. On the other hand, those sharpness don´t appear on Vermeer´s maid paintings. The action of pouring out the milk, which falls in wavy spouts in a mud bowl with two handles, is executed with gravity and attention (top picture).

The look of the maid concentrated on what she has to do, is a sign of humility. The soberness of the room is very good adapted to this easiness of life and the behavior of the maid. The wall is grey and yellowish in which we can distinguish nails, fissures, holes… was originally decorated or illustrated with a map.

Giving this example we can say that Vermeer used to portray his paintings with a lot of women. He portrays them in a very special way. These women are usually forefront and are described doing domestic chores, like for example, lace making, pouring milk, reading a letter… Those paintings, even if they look simple, they all have a second meaning and a special feeling in it. According to what I have just said, we can observe paintings like those ones:


Woman reading a letter

Muchacha con jarra de agua.



2 responses to “Women in Vermeer´s paintings.

  1. The first painting I believe to be Catharina Bolnes is Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window. It is because there is a an intimate and youthful and even sexual communication within the picture. For this reason, young couples will, at least privately, agree to my hypothesis. This cannot be Catharina very long after her wedding to Johannes. He has, here, identified a personal communication which he and his wife have shared. Vermeer has, here, declared, to her alone, but now to us, his love, with a “whisper” in her ear.
    In a later picture, Lady and Her Maid, where a maid interrupts a lady, who is writing a letter, and presents her with an unexpected missive, the lady is startled. This lady, too, I believe is Catharina, aged to her mid-thirties from the twenty-odd girl in the letter-reader. Something has not changed, though. The ear, that Vermeer whispered into in quiet moments of a noisy household, has not changed its form. He has noted its unusual protrusion in its structure just above and behind the lobe. He accurately paints it in the large painting, but in the smaller, earlier work he has given it more significance! He paints it with a single highlight even though it is in the shadow of her descending curls. To reveal their secret and Vermeer’s delight with his new wife, we require The Geographer’s compasses/dividers to scribe a circle. Place the “Constantia” (pivot) point into the highlight, and scribe the “Labore” point around a circle from the edge of her forehead. Vermeer’s fascination for the beauty of his new bride becomes fully evident!

  2. In Willa Cather’s “Shadows on the Rock” she has a character say that he has travelled all over the world, and only found one country where women like to work: Holland. “They have made an ugly country very beautiful.”

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