The footwarmer was a little wooden box with a receiptable filled with hot coals which was used to keep warm woman’s foot in winter time.  Footwarmers appear frequently in the work of Vermeer’s contemporaries, where they are always clearly identified and often in use, usually supporting a seated woman’s foot. However, in The Milkmaid, the footwarmer is not being used by the maid, but it is places aside in the painting.  As mentioned before, this boxes were used to provide women with warm. Nevertheless, there was even a time when footwarmers were taken to be a mousetrap. We could also add that this little box had emblematic associations with a lover’s desire for constancy and caring, idea which is reinforced in the case of The Milkmaid by the cupid images on the tiles directly behind it.

We could say that in this painting there are two main objects, the milk pitcher and the footwarmer. They seem to involve and represent opposite things. For instance, the milk pitcher represents life itself and is open to the viewer’s huminizing impulses, whereas the footwarmer is unused and without a necessary place as it is placed in the floor and turned half aside. We could add that the pitcher exists at the heart of a domesticated human world, while the little wooden box rests just outside that world’s boundaries.

[ I can not manage to add an image of the footwarmer found in The Milkmaid, so please go to that page and observe the bottom part at the righ side of maid. ]

3 responses to “Footwarmer

  1. The following is a June 25, 2003 post that I made to a Vermeer Iconography site/forum:

    The Milkmaid – the iconic representation of aspects dear to Dutch people and their history must not be tarnished. The symbolism, with its warnings and interpretation, Vermeer always countered, in genre painting with the purity of the image. The narration of symbolism, which some deny, is the pearl’s impure beginning. God, too, sometimes needs to cut a man, as the Great Physician, to expose a life for what it is. I don’t pretend to His throne in exposing Vermeer’s intent within this picture, nor wish any Dutch offense by my thoughts. I do not mean that his intent was dishonorable, but that I do not want to discolour, or detract from the paintings bloom by warning of its innate thorns.

    Various objects hang by nails on a wall lit by daylight streaming through a window that has a broken piece missing from it. The opening in this window has the same symbolism as the open casement windows of Vermeer’s and other painters of this genre – outside temptations entering in. The “shopping” basket and coals carrier are in their places to introduce the possibility of a third hanging object(other than the mirror!) The Timeless image begins its timely narrative when it is noticed that the wall has a missing nail to the right of the figure’s head. Below on the floor is the less-than-likely space occupier – the footwarmer. Adjacent to the footwarmer is the splinter of wood that exactly fits the missing piece from the warmer, indicating that it has recently fallen, yet, surprisingly, the redware hot coals container IS inside the warmers foot-rest and is ,further, NOT broken! Both of these facts may seem incongruous, but relevant to our story. Additionally, as we search for the missing nail on the exposed floorspace, it is found to contain, at the edge of the wall, in front of a pictured tile, a small piece of plaster which is of the same size and shape as the walls missing piece above. The tile mentioned is emblazoned with a Cupid figure which holds in both hands before him as he walks a large piece of paper that he is, apparently, reading! This is startling, and an ancient writer used the illustration, in his writings, of Mercury attempting to teach the “wild-child” Cupid to READ as a means of taming him or controlling the amorous entanglements in the lives of those affected by his arrows!
    As far as this speaks to the Milkmaid who holds the the very symbol of Temperance in her hands -the pitcher and the bowl – dressed in the sensually symbolic colours of yellow and a red skirt (relating also to the redware of the footwarmer)it is evident that she is the target of his narration. the foot warmer is known through Cesar Ripa’s EMBLEM to be a symbol of a womans preferrence for men who pay attention to their needs and affections. the redware , unbroken and inside the fallen warmer can only ssymbolize an illigitimate pregnancy as would
    , also, the small missing bit of plaster beside the Cupid who is walking blindly forward! What a master-stroke of creative thought was Vermeer’s inclusion of an out-of-place footwarmer!

  2. On June 25 ’03 I wrote an analysis of the Milkmaid, which I find is incomplete as I read it now. I meant to indicate that the Maid became pregnant due to her meetings with the lover of her Mistress. As many other paintings by various artists, such as Terborch, would illustrate, the messenger, such as this maid who delivered love-letters became the target of amorous advances by the opportunistic paramour of her Mistress. (Of course, some cases reveal the messenger to be the guilty party in the subterfuge) The fact that maids were uneducated and this one likely illiterate is also alluded to here by the Cupid who was traditionally unable to read. Vermeer painted the Cupid apparently reading, as in the tale about Mercury as his tutor, but as he reads he walks blindly and indicates that the maid has walked blindly into her present quandry.

  3. The tile of the Cupid walking is an actual tile which has been identified. Rather than holding before him a piece of paper or letter, Cupid holds his out-stretched BOW which is pointing at himself. Vermeer’s Cupid is painted with a double line for the bow which still, to me, looks like a sheet of paper. It matters not, because the Cupid with a bow directed at himself is the same meaning as regards the poor maid! In the delivering of the mail, she has been the target for Cupid’s arrow and the advances of the recipient. Can, then the breasts of the Milkmaid be enlarged?

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