In my previous article I explored the fact that although Johannes Vermeer is regarded as a "genre" painter, his works contained several still life compositions. Also some of them portrayed people almost frozen, notably “Woman with a balance” and “The Milkmaid” or ”Kitchen Maid”. The latter being one of Vermeer’s most recognizable paintings.
In reality, most people in Vermeer paintings are showing no signs of movement, they are glazing at something, many looking at the painter or photographer. In this regard, his genre paintings were all real still life paintings. People were as inanimate as glassware was in Pieter Claesz ontbijts.
Look at the painting, even with the maid present, this painting is closer to a still life than a genre painting. What’s she doing anyway? she is slowly pouring the milk into a container. The image suggest that she is doing this patiently and attentively, her eyes and attention are into the trivial task of pouring milk, nothing else matters.
There is nothing that suggest movement, other than the milk. There is nothing else for our eyes to wander around. The table has several simple rustic objects that are all nicely arranged, closer to a Luis Melendez ‘bodegón’ (see image at the bottom, right), than a genre painting by Vermeer, De Hooch or any other contemporary painter. But, unlike Melendez, Vermeer used objects that were common in the Dutch
Republic in the 1600’s, like the blue tankard or the foot warmer at the corner of the “Milkmaid.
It was this kind of thinking that encourage me to think about what would the image look like if the maid had left to do her daily chores? Why would Vermeer make this room so stark and boring? I don’t think anybody knows the answer, so I decided to provide my own story which included the addition of a rose in a small roemer. By the way, Vermeer did not painted one single flower in any of his 35 known paintings.
You can read my version of the story here…