She’s not a Hollywood Beauty.
She would be classified as being on the large side — she’s normal by most standards, but not for show business. Her face shows a gentle intelligence, but would never launch a thousand ships. Her arms are strong, her hands roughened. Although her clothes are modest and becoming, she is never going to top any “Best Dressed” lists.
I would drop everything on a moment’s notice and fly around the world to sit at her feet.
At least, until the guards kicked me out.
I don’t know her name — people who know art history possibly do — but I know her, the curve of her hand as it cradles the milk jug, the intent half smile as she focuses on pouring out the milk into the dish; and I know the room in which she stands, the window and the table and the loaves of crusty bread so clear you can almost smell their warm yeasty goodness.
She is Vermeer’s Kitchen Maid.
She’s not as flashy, say, as “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.” She has about her a peace and contentment that heals the soul. I want to stay in that room, maybe find out who she is, ask her for one of the loaves, some of the milk. I want to watch the light pouring in through the window, catching her cap, her gown, the milk, her arms.
The light is the most remarkable thing about her — and try as I might, I cannot think of the painting as anything but “her”, as totally identified with the unknown woman at its center. No print can do this painting justice. Light pours out of the canvas in a manner that defies description. You can sit in the Vermeer Room of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam on a gray and dank day and watch the light pour out of the window next to the woman’s head, as if you were in the same room with her, hearing the gentle burble of the milk flowing into the bowl.
I love art, deeply. But even within that, there are a small handful of pieces that matter to me at an almost primal level. Among those, most dear to my heart is the Kitchen Maid.
The girl I love.