Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Milkmaid

What I love so much about my job is that I get free access to most of the major New York museums. This means if I want to only see one favorite painting, I can run in and out and not have to wait in those dreaded queues (which, happily for the cultural institutions, tend to be never ending on the weekends).
So yesterday, I took a friend to view Vermeer's Milkmaid. It is the first time this painting has been in New York since the early 1900's and is here to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's historic journey to Manhattan from Holland. Nothing prepares you for the vibrancy of the color or the size of it. Like the Mona Lisa, you expect it to be a huge canvas as you have seen it reprinted so often. But it is actually very small and very intimate. And the most extraordinary thing is Vermeer painted this when he was only 25!

According to the very helpful background the Met provides, milkmaids and kitchenmaids were renowned for their amorous dispositions and were portrayed as such in art in the two centuries leading up to Vermeer. There was often also suggestive imagery of meat on a spit or more mundane kitchen items in the background such as jugs and open utensils. In the case of Vermeer's milkmaid, he was more subtle with his message. Whilst this looks like an ordinary daily task taking place - making porridge perhaps - the milkmaid is supposed to be an object of attraction for the male viewer, whilst she too, is having amorous thoughts. This is reinforced very subtlely by the image of a cupid on the wall tile in the bottom right corner.

This painting and others by Vermeer are on view until November 29th. Thank you to the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam for this temporary gift to the city!

Images sourced from www.metmuseum.org