Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid”

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.

Slide 4

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.