This article talks about the question of love in The Milkmaid. This article was written by Rodney Nevitt Jr. and we can find it in The Cambridge Companion to Vermeer 2001, pp.101.102.
Cupid reappears in Vermeer’s Milkmaid on the tile (lower right) between the maid’s skirt and the foot warmer, preparing to shoot his bow. (Another tile to the right seems to contain a figure with a walking stick.) We can confirm the identity of the Cupid here by comparing it to a seventeenth-century Dutch tile (upper right) that was clearly made from the same design.
The Cupid tile in Vermeer’s painting may be deliberately juxtaposed with the foot warmer, the wooden box containing a ceramic bowl for hot coals. Arthur Wheelock has called attention to a pictura entitled “Mignon des Dames” (Servant of Ladies) from Visscher’s Sinne-poppen in which a foot warmer becomes a symbol of the attention paid by courting men to their ladies. Such metaphoric uses of the foot warmer occur in other genre paintings. An illustration from (Scoperos satyrae ofter Thyrsis’ minnewit (Scopus’s Satire or Thyrsus’ Wit of Love), a vryerijboek published in 1668, shows a young man kneeling to attend to his lady’s foot warmer the accompanying text compares men who are open about their desires to women who cloak them: “The burning of maidens can be hidden,/ The coals exist in the heart …”
Similarly, Vermeer’s Milkmaid is absorbed in her work, a paragon of domestic virtue without any overt amatory meaning. Cupid, however, is the peripatetic messenger of love, mischievously cropping up where one least expects him. Thus his understated presence here may be precisely the point. For both servants and mistresses, household work was often set in opposition to more pleasurable activities. In the popular kluchten (farces), maids regularly seek to evade their chores for amorous pursuits, like Jannetje in Klucht van de koeck-vreyer (Farce of the Cake-Vrijer), who wishes to go out “to the vrijers’s path, to see and be seen.”
This stereotype was grounded in a social reality; in the Dutch Republic, maids were often young women who hoped to marry rather than make a lifelong profession of domestic work. A similar dynamic of work and play obtained for their mistresses. The preface to Delft Cupidoos schighje, addressed to “the Delft song- loving young ladies,” focuses on lacemaking as a duty: “Don’t throw this book away,/ When with your fingers/You weave nice, dense little’ laces.” Put it in your lap, the author suggests, and enjoy it later. We do not know what book lies next to Vermeer’s Lacemaker, but certainly it represents another contemplative pursuit that will occupy her when the lacemaking is done.
1. The kitchen maid
With quiet concentration a woman pours milk into a bowl. With her left hand she supports the can she is pouring from. Around her are various objects: a loaf of bread, stoneware. Stoneware is made of clay that produces a grey or brown colour and is fired at a temperature of around 1250 degrees Celsius. It is exceptionally hard and only slightly porous. Moreover, stoneware does not acquire a taste and is easy to clean. It is therefore an ideal material in which to preserve liquids and from which to drink. Around 1300 stoneware acquired something of a mass market and remained popular until glass and delftware took its place in the 17th century. Sixteenth- and 17th- century stoneware is often decorated with reliefs. One of the centres of stoneware production was the area between Cologne and Aachen in Germany’s Rhineland. jug, a basket and a brass bucket. The woman is standing near the window so she can see what she is doing. The light falls on her hands; her silhouette is dark against the white wall. There is a fascinating play of light and shadow in this painting. This is one of Johannes Vermeer’s genre pieces in which he establishes an intensely intimate atmosphere. Although the artist observes his model from nearby, she continues with her work, totally unperturbed
2. Subtle lighting
The lighting in Vermeer’s ‘Milkmaid’ is extraordinarily subtle. Light falls from the left through the window. Beneath and beside the window it is somewhat shadowy, but the woman is standing in full brightness. When you look carefully at the painting you see that Vermeer has introduced tiny points of light all over the canvas: on the edges of the jug and the bowl, but also on the fastening of her yellow dress, and on the bread in the basket. Vermeer paid great attention to details. He has painted tiny rough patches into the texture of the white plasterwork. Also, he gives careful thought to a nail set high in the white wall, as well as to the light entering through a cracked windowpane. The structure of various objects is expertly rendered: gleaming brass and crumbly bread.
Clearly, this woman is a servant and no grand lady. Her dress is simple. The blue skirt is tucked up to save it from getting dirty. She wears green over-sleeves which partly protect her yellow bodice. On her head the maid wears a starched cap. She looks strong and sturdy. Vermeer achieves this effect by painting her from a low viewpoint. This lends a certain weight and dignity to this simple and everyday subject – a woman at her work.
The information above has been taken from this web site:
The Milkmaid by Vermeer
I would like to share with you a poem that Anner Broke wrote inspired by Vermeer’s picture; The Milkmaid.
|The Milkmaid by Vermeer|
|It’s the bread I notice first,
gnarled hunks of speckled brown and white
basking in the revelatory glory
from the barred hint of window high up on the left.
In the clear stream of light, each crust looks alive,
something I could reach out to and take.
I want to crumble the earthy softness between my fingers,
releasing the heady scent of yeast into the Summer air,
and taste on my lips the warmth of the Low Country sun;
vibrant, wholesome.Even as I think these things I know
as if someone had spoken the words aloud
that the woman I face would not permit it.
Right now she is pouring the steady froth of milk
from the deep cavern of an earthenware jug,
her strong arms blushed creamy-pink against the blue of her apron.
She looks down, intent on her task
as if it is the only action taking place in the universe.
And for her perhaps it is.