The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer, 1658-1660

The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer

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The Milkmaid, circa 1658-60
The Milkmaid, 1658-1660
The Milkmaid, circa 1658-60
The Milkmaid, c.1658-1660

Also named The Maid-servant, The Milmaid, was painted in 1658, being one of the very early and most beautiful of Vermeer's series: brightly lit interior scenes with characters seen in the middle of their day by day activities. Oil on canvas, now on display in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

A luminous force typical to Vermeer is present in the Milkmaid. This picture is equally pithily and richly painted, and its title describes the model: a powerfully-built woman with strong arms and heavy hips. The contours are sharply defined against the white-washed wall.

The painter treated his subject like a sculptor; the rounded parts are almost kneaded in paint. The still-life is almost as palpable. The creamy milk flows slow and heavy into the red earthenware bowl; the bread is crumby and the dabs of light make it look granular.

Yellowish green, royal blue and terracotta are the colors of the jacket with rolled-up sleeves, the apron and the skirt. And the same color-scheme is repeated but slightly muffled in the still-life of the bread basket, the Cologne jug, the earthen pitcher and bowl, on the green table cover over which is thrown a blue cloth.

This variety of colors is set off by the light, nail-scarred wall. A straw, basket, a copper pot and a foot-warmer full of embers complete the inventory of this homely kitchen.

With the simplest possible means the artist has achieved something monumental, the like of which we shall never again meet with, either in his work or in that of any other genre painter. From this point onward Vermeer strove above all for greater refinement.

Other paintings by Johannes Vermeer in this gallery: "Young Woman with a Water Jug", dated 1660-1662 and located at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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