She is wearing a white cap to cover her hair, which further conveys a sense of anonymousness.
However, after researching this work of art, I began to discover how wide the divide was between my own assumptions of beauty and that of Vermeer's time. Although I found the work of art itself beautiful and picturesque, the milkmaid looked heavy and ungainly to me, more of an object of pity because of her drudgery than an object of beauty. However, according to the literature on the exhibition, the subject matter was supposed to be romantic, and encourage the male viewer to desire the milkmaid and the female viewer to identify with the milkmaid: "For at least two centuries before Vermeer's time, milkmaids and kitchen maids had (or were assigned) a reputation for amorous predispositions. Netherlandish artists adopted this theme in works ranging in tone from coarsely erotic to slyly suggestive. The most frankly sexual interpretations include some of the kitchen and market scenes" of the period, which Vermeer would have assumed that the viewer knew well ("More about," 2009, Met). Supporting this position is something I did not notice, either -- there is an image of Cupid on the tiles, evident near what is identified as a foot warmer at the bottom of the painting. The maid's possible secret life is thus alluded to. Also, the artist is said to have used a "deliberately low vantage point and a pyramidal buildup of forms from...
However, I do not think my first interpretative instinct is necessarily contradictory with the suggestion that the woman is supposed to be 'erotic' in Vermeer's depiction. The Cupid is on cracked kitchen tile, which indicates that although the woman might have a secret life, she is still trapped within the confines of the domesticity and her role as a milkmaid. Giving beauty to the ordinary, which seems to be the essence of Vermeer, is consistent with giving beauty to an ordinary milkmaid who may have romantic entanglements, unknown to her employer.
Overall, I think the exhibition at the Met is successful. The warm coloring of the walls of the display and the gold frame further enhance the Milkmaid's significant position in the special exhibition room. The other Vermeers in the room that are part of the Met's regular collection also help the viewer to place the Milkmaid in a larger context. Seeing pictures of women eating oranges, pouring water, and playing music in more obviously seductive poses may have made the milkmaid seem more humble than Vermeer intended. But after learning about the painting, I saw that the milkmaid and the other woman were all part of a similar theme in Vermeer's work: the seductive potential of ordinary people and activities.
"More about this exhibition." Vermeer's masterpiece the Milkmaid. Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Met). October 5, 2009.
Metropolitan Museum of Arts: Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, Delft 1632 -- 1675 Delft) Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (1662) History of the Painting The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) notes that this was the first Vermeer painting to enter an American public collection, and is one of a small group of canvases dating from about 1662 -- 65 in which isolated women appear as mistresses of their private domains. Technical analysis reveals that a