The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer

"The Milkmaid" (c. 1658-1661)
Johannes Vermeer (1632 - 1675)
Oil on canvas; 17 7/8 x 16 1/8 in. (45.5 x 41 cm.)
The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Have you ever wondered what Vermeer's Milkmade is cooking? Vermeer's unassuming maid is slowly pouring milk into a squat earthenware vessel which is commonly known as a Dutch oven. The deep recessed rim shows the vessel was meant to hold a lid to seal the contents for airtight baking. Dutch ovens characteristically were used for prolonged, slow cooking and were made of iron or in the case of the present painting, of ceramic. Rand posits that the key to the contents are the broken pieces of bread which lays before her in the still life and assumes that she has already made custard in which the bread mixed with egg is now soaking. The maid now pours milk over the mixture to cover it because if the bread is not simmering in liquid while it is baking, the upper crusts of the bread will turn unappetizingly dry instead of forming the delicious upper surface of the pudding. Vermeer's maid takes such care in pouring the trickle of milk because it is difficult to rescue bread pudding if the ingredients are not correctly measured and combined.


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