Monday, July 8, 2013

Vermeer and the Virtuous Maid

One of Vermeer's most admired works is the Milkmaid or Kitchen Maid hang at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

It is a simple composition of a typical house maid in XVII Century Netherlands pouring milk into a bowl. Her face expression conveys absolute and complete absorption in a menial task. This was one of Vermeer earliest works and the only one in such modest room as the kitchen. He quickly moved into fancier, more affluent subjects.

Marjorie E. Wieseman in her book Vermeer's Women attribute the solemnity of the Milkmaid task as a way for Vermeer to attribute virtue to maids, who were generally viewed with suspicion at the time. Maids were normally pictured with her mistresses or sleeping on a table, or listening to a conversation in other words either as secondary subjects or suspicious main ones. In a stark contrast, Vermeer shows us a painting where the maid is the main subject AND she is putting all her attention into her job, no matter how menial it may seem. It is this, the fact that she takes so seriously such a simple job what makes the maid virtuous.

I loved the idea of conveying virtue by picturing solemnity in a menial task, but I chose a different subject, one that allows me to blend a Vermeer subject with a Bosschaert (Ambrosious Bosschaert the Elder) subject which is another favourite of mine; flower bouquet paintings. 

Here is my image and my story that goas as:
A girl is graciously arranging a flower bouquet to honour important evening visitors, Pieter Claesz Van Ruijn and his wife Maria de Knuijt. They are Jan Vermeer's most important patrons and are coming today to look at his newest painting of a girl wearing a pearl earring. Money is tight; hence, the Vermeers are hoping that Van Ruijn will like the new masterpiece and purchase it.

They are trying to embellish the house with their best pieces for the event. They wanted to impress Van Ruijn and his wife, therefore they invested a small fortune in a flower bouquet, that include the latest arrival of exotic flowers from Turkey; tulips and an Iris which symbolizes the trinity. They also hung a still life painting from Pieter Claesz, the famous Harleem painter. They thought that since he has the same name as Van Ruijn it would make for a good conversation.

The little girl is completely absorbed in her task, totally unaware of the tension around the patrons visit and the implications of the results. She innocently and happily arranges the flowers, completely unaware of what worries the adults. She is humming her favourite song while her innocent mind is solely occupied by her admiration of nature's power to produce these wonderful colourful creations called flowers.

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