A milkmaid visits New York

May 30th, 2009

Vermeer’s Masterpiece,”The Milkmaid”
Sept. 10 -Nov. 29, 2009
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Just out is Carol Vogel’s NYT report of Vermeer’s Milkmaid coming to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in September, 2009.

Although no blockbuster exhibition is planned for her arrival be warned, the humble, but most majestic of all maids is sure enough to draw important crowds.  So now, in one swoop, Vermeer both serious enthusiasts and the curious can take in 6 Vermeer paintings (the MET already has 5) at one time, walk a few blocks down to the Frick and see three more.

That’s about ¼ of the Delft Master’s surviving output.

The only other loan will be a drawing by Dutch artist Jacob Backer, Woman With a Jug, from about 1645.

One Response to “A milkmaid visits New York”

  1. Richard A. Smith

    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 or meat carrier are in their places to introduce the possibility of a third hanging object(other than the mirrorwhich has it’s own connotations for morals symbolism!) 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!
    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.
    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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