the milkmaid


Vermeer’s painting of a maidservant pouring milk, on loan to the Met from the Rijksmuseum is a work of extraordinary fullness in every respect. This feeling of uncanny amplitude is partly the result of how in the way Vermeer made his own sunlight coursing through a window (a “cool graced light,” in Frank’s O’Hara’s phrase, if ever there was one) acts on bits of earthly surface, affording a kind of extreme visibility to each thing exposed in its path. Light in Vermeer is such a fact of aesthetic experience, so intrinsic to everyone’s appreciation of his art, that it may have blinded us to a great deal else that shows up in the pictures. Neither signed nor dated, on a near-square canvas nearly a foot and a half in either dimension, the picture, for all its grandeur, seems a hinge work of Vermeer’s early maturity. Better known nowadays as The Milkmaid, it’s an anomaly within his output generally, its worked-up surface and culinary subject matter stated comparatively coarsely, a less delicate image overall than the preternatural refinements soon to come. The Met curator and scholar of Dutch art Walter Liedtke places it historically in the company of other paintings, some of them, like the Cavalier and Young Woman in the Frick, in similarly compact formats done around 1657-58, when Vermeer was in his mid-twenties.

more from Bill Berkson at artcritical here.