Eider Zorrilla’s page on The Milkmaid

This post contains the page developed by Eider Zorrilla for last years course on The Milkmaid.


“When he painted Tanneke she stood there happily pouring milk for months without a thought passing through that head, God love her.” by Tracy Chevalier.


Poem on The Milkmaid by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

The poem is taken from Marilyn’s ‘In Quiet Light’, which was published 8 years ago. This book is full of poems on the different Vermeer’s paintings, and this is the one on mine. It’s nice to have a look at them and see another different way of describing the works.

(As you already know, some of these poems are included in our book)

There is no flattery here: this thick-muscled,

broad-bottomed girl has milked cows at

dawn and carried sloshing pails

hung from a yoke on shoulders

broadened to the task. She kneaded

fat mounds of dough, sinking heavy fists deep

into voluptuous bread, innocent

and sensuous as a child in spring mud.

Evenings she mends and patches

the coarse wool of her bodice, smelling

her own sweat, sweet like grass and dung

in the barn or like warm milk

fresh from the udder.


Her world is grained and gritty, deep-

textured, rough-hewn, earth-toned, solid,

simple and crude. Reed and brass and clay,

wheat and flax and plaster turned to human use

have not come far from the loamy fields

where they were mined and gathered. The things

she handles are round and square, though-

fibered and strong, familiar as flesh to the touch.


The jug rests in her hand like a baby’s

bottom. She bends to her task like a mother

tending her child, hand and eye trained

to this work, heart left to its pondering.


How like tenderness, this look

of complete attention, how like a prayer

that blesses these loaves, this milk

(round like this belly, full like this breast),

given daily into her keeping, this handmaid

on whom the light falls,

haloed in white, hallowed by the gaze

that sees her thus, heavy, thick-lipped,

weathered and earthbound, blessed

and full of grace.



Essay for Claire on The Milkmaid


It was just another spring morning for her. Once again, she woke up very early in the morning and walked towards the market in order to buy the fresh milk and the fresh dough. Going to the market every morning was not an easy task for her, as she was a country girl, who had to travel to the big city and made a living. She was used to milk the cow, because she would help his father every single morning back in their farm.


She worked as a maid in a wealthy family and although she had been working there for some years, she still missed a lot her humble way of living. She was known around the city as the milkmaid, though her real name was Tanneke.


She was provided with food and clothes and had her own room in the house, that was the way in which the wealthy family payed her services at the house. That morning she was wearing the yellow long-sleeved rustic garment with blue stripes on it and the only skirt she had, which was covered with a dark blue apron. As she was still young and not married, she had to wear a white shawl covering her hair.


She was tired of working day after day and night after night, pleasing the others and not herself; going to the market, cooking, cleaning, washing, serving, watching after the kids … the list of the tasks never came to an end in that house. There was no time for having a rest; no time was left even to breath. However, she never showed any bad face or gesture. She tried to do her best each time. Whenever she felt exausted, instead of stopping doing things, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes and kept on with her tasks.


 She had a dream, a dream she never shared with anybody. She kept it to herself. She had built in her mind her perfect future. She dreamt about going back home with some money in the pocket. Home, her home, her family, her whole life spent at home. Home was for her more than four walls and a bed, it was her people, the most important part of herself. Home was for her beautiful green hills, valleys, dales and pure streams and lakes. Home was for her life. It was nature in its own. Cows, highland cattle, deers, sheeps…that was home.


 There was no much light in that room. The sun had just start shining and illuminatin the world. Besides, the window of that room was not a clean window and so, light could hardly find its way in. Nevertheless, she had to prepare the breakfast for the Lady before she woke up. Actually, there was a little hole in one of the pieces of the window, which allowed the entramce of the light to be a bit easier. That ray directly illuminated her face, letting her see well.


By that time in the morning she had already gone to the market so she had already shaped the bread, cooked it in the old woodden oven and put it in different baskets. She had a look to the bread and thought it was the best bread she had ever cooked. It was perfect: not too burnt but with that tempting colour and great smell, which invited her to eat a piece. She began pouring the milk into the cup. Inspite of being tired, exausted, she poured the milk in a very careful way, as if it was the most fragile thing in the world. There was no drop of milk spread in the table; her apron was still clean, which she tried to keep that way because she had no other apron.


Although she was tired and bored of doing the same day after day, she tried to it the best she could. However, you could notice her sadness in her face. You could see trhough her eyes her resignation.


Millions of ideas would drift in her mind. She spent most of the day thinking, missing, dreaming about her home in the country. She would remember the green valleys with the seeps and the cows, the almost blue lakes surrounded by beautiful pink, yellow and white wild flowers, the singing of the birds and the fly of tens of butterflies around the trees and the grass. She remembered the pure white winters, in which almost everything was frozzen and white. Lakes and rivers were as strong as stones, with no flood of water through them. There were not wild colourful flowers at the shore of the lake, neither green grass in the slope of the hill. Those lively butterflies would have hidden in winter time, and birds would not sing as loud and happy as in summer time. She remembered the freezing cold day and nights, especially whenever she had to do any task outside the house.


That morning, once again, she would think about all those things, and would pour the milk just wondering herself how green valleys would be or how blue lakes and streams would be back at home. The work seemed to be easier while dreaming about being there again. Her departure was nearer than ever, though she did not know anything about it. She thought she had to spend at least a couple of years more there to be able to go back home.


Nevertheless, the mistress of the house did not need her services more. Tanneke had been a very good maid for many years, but was getting old. The mistress needed young maids, full of vitality. So, that same morning, after pouring the milk, putting the bread in the basket and bringing them to her mistress, she was told the great news. She was going back! Going back home! She thought full of happiness. She went downstairs jumping enthusiastically, where she packed her few things in an old bag. Her dream had made true.


2 responses to “Eider Zorrilla’s page on The Milkmaid

  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. Richard A. Smith Says:

    January 6, 2009 at 12:21 am
    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.

    Richard A. Smith Says:

    May 29, 2009 at 7:29 am
    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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