Experts discovered a jug and basket hidden in the famous painting The Milkmaid by 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, on which he later painted, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam announced Thursday (8 September).
Discoveries in a 350-year-old painting shed new light on the artist’s elusive methods, ahead of the largest ever exhibition of his work due to begin in 2023 at the famed museum.
Important new discoveries on The Milkmaid! Advanced research technologies have unearthed a pitcher and a brazier. Vermeer himself later painted the objects. More recent scans have also uncovered what is clearly a background paint. https://t.co/jEsKR25XKP pic.twitter.com/sGbJkIUdaI
– Rijksmuseum (@rijksmuseum) September 8, 2022
Advanced scanning techniques revealed that underneath the plain white wall that brings out the milkmaid’s bright yellow and blue dresses, Vermeer had originally painted additional details. “Reveals an unexpected new Vermeer, it’s unbelievable”, said Gregor Weber, head of fine arts at the Rijksmuseum. These changes mean that the iconic figure of the milkmaid, seen in the painting pouring a trickle of milk from a clay jug, “stands before us in a much more monumental way“, he continues.
Researchers knew from X-rays taken a decade ago that there were things hidden under the paint layers The milk girl, without knowing which ones. One of the most important discoveries, they say, is that the artist had drawn a wooden jug on the wall just behind the milkmaid’s head.
They had previously thought it might be a fireplace, but a new technique called “short wavelength infrared reflection” clearly showed the details of the jugs and wooden frame. Another key finding was that a previously spotted shaded outline could now be thought of as a “fire basket,” used at the time to air clothes.
The researchers also found a thick line of black paint “hastily applied” under the milkmaid’s left arm, demonstrating that Vermeer had apparently made a quick initial sketch. Everything has been repainted. The jug stand was later replaced with the stiff white wall, while the basket became a much smaller foot warmer.
The changes he made would be crucial to his later works, including the iconic girl with a pearl which will also be part of the exhibition. “He has learned that less is more“, She said Gregory Weber.
Little is known John Vermeer (1632-1675), who lived a modest life in historic Delft during the Dutch “Golden Age” of painting.
The unprecedented exhibition, presented from 10 February to 4 June 2023, will bring together twenty-seven works from museums around the world to shed light on the Dutchman’s life and career. Tickets are on sale from Thursday morning on the Rijksmuseum website.