The Milkmaid


(De Melkmeid)

c. 1658-1661
oil on canvas
17 7/8 x 16 1/8 in. (45.5 x 41 cm.)
The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

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  • what is the milkmaid cooking?
  • milk, cheese & cleanliness
  • Dutch bread
  • Vermeer’s big mistake ?
  • Dutch women in the 17th century
  • the right time to enter the art market
  • emblematic meaning in painting
  • a missing clothes basket
  • who posed for the milkmaid?
  • the painting’s history
  • Vermeer’s palette
  • white-washed walls
  • Dutch bakeries
  • listen to period music

  • related works    1234567

critical excerpt

No signature appears on this work.

c. 1658-1660
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. (Vermeer: The Complete Works, New York, 1997)

c. 1657-1658
Walter Liedtke (Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, New York, 2008)

The closed, plain-weave linen still has its original tacking edges. The thread count is 14 x 14.5″ per cm². The canvas was relined with wax/resin in 1950 over an existing paste lining.

The ground is a pale brown/gray, containing chalk, lead white, and umber. Apart from a strip above the milkmaid’s head along the upper edge of the painting, there is a dark underpainting in the background. Infrared reflectography shows broad, black undermodeling in the shadows of the blue apron. A pinhole with which Vermeer marked the vanishing point of the composition is visible in the paint layer above the right hand of the maid.

A red lake glaze is used as an underpaint in the flesh color of the maid’s right hand. It is followed by an ocher layer in the shadows, and a white layer followed by a pink layer in the highlights. Several areas were painted wet-in-wet: the glazing bars, the maid’s white cap and the details of her yellow bodice. The still life is richly textured with a combination of glazing, crumbling and thick impasto. The bright blue edge to the maid’s skirt is created by the luminosity of the underlying white layer.

* Johannes Vermeer (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art and Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis – Washington and The Hague, 1995, edited by Arthur Wheelock)


    • (?) Pieter Claesz van Ruijven, Delft (d. 1674); (?) his widow,
      Maria de Knuijt, Delft (d. 1681);
    • (?) their daughter, Magdalena van Ruijven, Delft (d. 1682);
    • (?) her widower, Jacob Abrahamsz Dissius
      (d. 1695); Dissius sale, Amsterdam, 16 May 1696, no. 2;
    • Isaac Rooleeuw, Amsterdam (1696-1701);
    • Rooleeuw sale, Amsterdam, 20 April 1701, no. 7;