Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Milkmaid and Dog (De Melkmeid en Honden)

click on image to enlarge
Content and Criticism
The Milkmaid and Dog (De Melkmeid en Honden), sometimes called The Kitchen Maid and Hound is an oil painting of a domestic kitchen maid and a little brown dog by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. It was painted between 1657 and 1659. The housemaid is preparing a traditional bread pudding in a Dutch oven while her companion, a polite little hound, watches hopefully.

Like Dog with a Pearl Earring, Vermeer depicts a quiet wistfulness of his subjects in simple poses. He captures the window light with luminous colors highlighting the face of the humble servant, the flowing stream of milk and the bright eyes of the hopeful hound. 

The ivory of the maid's cap, the stream of milk and the delicate snout of the dog form a visual triangle that is intersected by the ivory of the maid's arm. Not only is this an interesting compositional choice, but Vermeer also emphasizes clearly the relationship of the maid to dog - the arm closing an inner triangle and forming a barrier to the milk, excluding the dog.

Perhaps the dog’s long-suffering gaze represents Vermeer’s own isolation or his longing to shed the rigid constraints of Dutch society. Is the dog a commentary on the class system of haves and have-nots? The strong diagonal of her gaze follows the forbidden bread, the out-of-reach milk and to the glass barrier of the window to freedom beyond. Yet, she waits… for a few humble crumbs.

Many critics have speculated about the identity of the little brown dog - as she is the subject of many of Vermeer’s lesser-known works (most of which now reside in private collections throughout the world).  Was the hound his own faithful companion or that of a secret love whom he could not paint? Whoever she was, the dog lends a quiet dignity and grace to Vermeer's works.

More Art Hound (by artist)
Johannes Vermeer's The Milkmaid (De Melkmeid)


  1. Carmella, did I see you in a pickup truck on North Rice street yesterday? I almost said Hi when I pulled up beside you but wasn't sure it was you.

  2. Oh no, that wasn't me. My ride is a blue Subaru Outback. But I'll bet we cross paths once in awhile.