The Milkmaid

The Milkmaid

We need to focus on the mottled effect in the paintings made by Jan Vermeer (1632-1675), the first painter who tried to reach a ‘photographic’ quality. Vermeer had understood that the eye and its inseparable ‘camera obscura’ do not see the things in the same way so this is no more a plain technical resource, it has become a new way to look. There were a few things he preferred to paint just as they can be seen through that ‘camera obscura’.

This is a real Vermeer, with its typical blue-yellow harmony (though the map of the Netherlands and the white porcelain tiny pitcher are missing). The woman is looking downwards to the dark opening of the jar, to the thin splash of dense milk which seems to be suspended in the air and to the outstanding pieces of bread which are so full of specks.

We’re fascinated by that sense of intimacy in the Dutch painting school and in Vermeer in particular. So many unnoticed things are painted, nearly the void is painted: a young girl dozing off, sitting on a chair or a pair of children, crouching, in a humble Street of Delft. In this painting the reality is safe. Our milkmaid is a real allegory of humility, just paying attention to her task, completely oblivious to our interest, obviously not aware of the artist’s interest. That’s the miracle.

Deep down, Vermeer owed this simple and anonymous woman a lot. Surely, some industrious scholar devoted to the Dutch master has tried to figure out the name of the woman. I hope the identity of the woman will not be discovered: the erudition only succeeds in breaking the magic, the mystery.

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