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The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer

The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer

Liedtke, Walter
36 pages
44 illustrations
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The Milkmaid, by the celebrated Delft master Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675), is one of the most admired paintings in the world and an image especially beloved in The Netherlands. Already described as famous in 1719, the small canvas is now such a familiar symbol of Dutch culture that simply announcing its name to a native of the country—in Dutch (Het Melkmeisje) or even in English—will probably conjure up a clear mental picture of the composition as well as memories of a visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam or a particular day in school. There are paintings that could be said to offer a broader view of seventeenth-century Dutch society, such as Rembrandt's Night Watch (1642) or Syndics of the Cloth Guild (1662), since they represent the kinds of civic organizations that transformed The Netherlands into an independent republic and a business empire. But in The Milkmaid we discover Dutch self-reliance and well-being in an individual who appears to have her own thoughts and feelings but also evokes the hard-won peace and prosperity of the Golden Age.

Nearly half of Vermeer's surviving oeuvre was seen at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in the exhibition "Johannes Vermeer" of 1995–96. A similarly large but somewhat different selection of paintings by Vermeer was included, along with about 140 other works of art, in the Metropolitan's 2001 exhibition "Vermeer and the Delft School." The Milkmaid, however, has been to America only once before, when it was one of the "masterpieces of art" displayed at the New York World's Fair of 1939–40.

"Vermeer's Masterpiece The Milkmaid" is one of several events celebrating the anniversary of Hudson's voyage in 1609. In that respect the exhibition recalls the Museum's participation in the citywide Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909, when 149 seventeenth-century Dutch paintings (including five Vermeers) and a large display of American pictures and decorative arts were gathered from private collections and public institutions in this country. The essence of the current project, less ambitious perhaps but of very special import, is the gift of a loan, for nearly three months, of one precious Dutch picture, as a gesture of collegiality between two great museums and two great countries.

Still Life with Oysters, a Silver Tazza, and Glassware, Willem Claesz Heda  Dutch, Oil on wood
Willem Claesz Heda
The Milkmaid, Lucas van Leyden  Netherlandish, Engraving
Lucas van Leyden
The Archer and the Milkmaid, Jacques de Gheyn II  Netherlandish, Engraving; first state of two (New Hollstein)
Multiple artists/makers
ca. 1610
Kitchen Scene, Peter Wtewael  Dutch, Oil on canvas
Peter Wtewael
A Young Woman at Her Toilet with a Maid, Gerard ter Borch the Younger  Dutch, Oil on wood
Gerard ter Borch the Younger
ca. 1650–51
The Visit, Pieter de Hooch  Dutch, Oil on wood
Pieter de Hooch
ca. 1657
Young Woman Peeling Apples, Nicolaes Maes  Dutch, Oil on wood
Nicolaes Maes
ca. 1655
A Woman Seated at a Window, Gabriël Metsu  Dutch, Oil on wood
Gabriël Metsu
early 1660s
A Kitchen, Hendrick Sorgh  Dutch, Oil on wood
Hendrick Sorgh
ca. 1643
A Maid Asleep, Johannes Vermeer  Dutch, Oil on canvas
Johannes Vermeer
ca. 1656–57
Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, Johannes Vermeer  Dutch, Oil on canvas
Johannes Vermeer
ca. 1662
Young Woman with a Lute, Johannes Vermeer  Dutch, Oil on canvas
Johannes Vermeer
ca. 1662–63
Study of a Young Woman, Johannes Vermeer  Dutch, Oil on canvas
Johannes Vermeer
ca. 1665–67
Allegory of the Catholic Faith, Johannes Vermeer  Dutch, Oil on canvas
Johannes Vermeer
ca. 1670–72
Interior of the Oude Kerk, Delft, Hendrick van Vliet  Dutch, Oil on canvas
Hendrick van Vliet
Interior of the Oude Kerk, Delft, Emanuel de Witte  Dutch, Oil on wood
Emanuel de Witte
probably 1650

View Citations

Liedtke, Walter A., Jan Vermeer van Delft, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, eds. 2009. The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer: ... In Conjunction with the Exhibition Vermeer’s Masterpiece The Milkmaid, Held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York from September 9 to November 29, 2010. New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art.