Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Homescapes --- Day 9/107

Walk: Hood Errands
Distance: 3 miles, Yoga

Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, 1657-1658, oil on canvas

We are cleared locally for domestic help so Ciwt - after nearly five monthsis - is happily sitting in a sparkling clean home. Naturally her mind goes (thankfully) to those who help around the house, particularly women.  A popular subject for artists to paint especially during 17th to the 20th centuries, it remains a popular attraction for viewers.  The Director of the Rijksmuseum where The Milkmaid  above hangs declares the painting  "unquestionably one of the museum's finest attractions."  This in a museum full of masterpieces.

The prominence of domestic scenes began in earnest in the Dutch Golden Age (ca 1581-1652) when the country was flourishing economically and had freed itself from Spanish/Catholic rule.  Money abounded especially among the  newly and greatly rich middle class who were no longer constrained to hang religious art and were very interested in images of themselves, their homes, the women, children, pets and objects in them. Amazingly the Dutch were also blessed with many of the finest artists to ever weild a brush,  Rembrandt, Vermeer, de Hooch, Stein, Hals, Fabritius (of The Goldfinch fame) to name a few.

All is not simple these days.  As innocent as The Milkmaid may appear to our eye as she concentrates on pouring milk from a jug into a ceramic bowl, it is possible she would have been viewed as erotic in her era.  In fact most paintings in the 'maid tradition' abound with amorous symbols: receptive bowls, breads, dangling chickens, draping fabrics, use your imagination. 

Vermeer's The Milkmaid is actually one of the rare examples of a maid being treated in an empathic and dignified way.  And to Ciwt's eye and, really the eyes of the multitudes by whom she is beloved, the erotica - if it exists - is so understated it can be dismissed.  

Those who think along these lines see a humble woman using common ingredients and otherwise stale bread to create bread pudding, a pleasurable product for the household.  According to the outstanding Essential Vermeer website, "Her measured demeanor, modest dress and judiciousness in preparing her food conveys eloquently yet unobtrusively one of the strongest values of 17th century Netherlands, domestic virtue."

And a critic in Forbes Magazine says, "In the end, it is not the allusions to female sexuality that give this painting its romance or emotional resonance - it is the depiction of honest, hard work as something romantic in and of itself.  The Milkmaid elevates the drudgery of housework and servitude to virtuous, even heroic, levels." 

Think what you will, to Ciwt the painting is lovely by any measure, and she is very happy to be sitting in the home her housecleaner left so sparkling today.

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