This TweenCast episode, written especially for audiences ages ten to twelve, imagines the life of a young maid in seventeenth-century Holland. Nicolaes Maes's Young Woman Peeling Apples
is included in the exhibition "Vermeer's Masterpiece The Milkmaid."
Narrator: Welcome to TweenCast, the first in a series of podcast [episodes] from The Metropolitan Museum of Art especially for young audiences ages ten to twelve. A work of art can transport you to another time and place—where you often meet the most amazing people. Look at the painting by Nicolaes Maes titled Young Woman Peeling Apples.
You’re traveling to Europe, back around 1655—to Holland, or the Netherlands, where Nicolaes Maes made this painting. This was during the Golden Age of Dutch history. The Dutch explored the globe, dominated sea trade, and amassed fantastic wealth. A powerful middle class of merchants and professionals emerged between the aristocracy and the poor. Science, invention, and education flourished. So did the arts.
The young woman in this painting sits facing the viewer, holding an apple and a paring knife. She turns the apple against the blade, removing the peel in a long, curling strip.
A strip of apple peel lies on the white cloth over her lap, where three more apples wait to be peeled. When she finishes this apple, she’ll drop it into a wooden pail of water beside her chair. This keeps peeled apples from turning brown.
The woman wears a red chemise, like a long shirt or smock. Over her chemise, a dark-colored bodice covers her chest, back, and sides. She wears a brown apron over her bluish skirt. The lady of the house in middle-class Dutch homes wore a white apron, collar, and cuffs. This young woman’s brown apron and plain clothes tell us that she’s a serving maid: a lower-class woman earning her keep in a middle-class home. Members of the middle class prided themselves on cleanliness, order, and responsibility. This young maid followed a daily schedule of washing, dusting, polishing, scrubbing, scouring, doing laundry, and making beds. Peeling apples might be the most restful moment of her day.
A multicolored rug covers the wooden table to her right. A basket of apples waiting to be peeled sits at the edge of the table. The maid sits in a room with plain walls: a room similar to a modern eat-in-kitchen. Dutch writers taught that each member of the household had a proper place to be. One author explained, “The husband must be on the street to practice his trade. The wife must stay at home to be in the kitchen.”
In popular literature, authors often warned their middle-class readers that serving maids were naturally lazy and irresponsible. However, this young maid preparing the apples is clearly hardworking and reliable. She’ll probably marry in just a few years and start keeping house for her own family. Many Dutch paintings taught moral lessons that appealed to middle-class values. This picture may have been intended to teach the virtues of hard work and knowing one’s place.
When you see Young Woman Peeling Apples at the Museum, you can make out a gentle smile on the maid’s face. She’s happily absorbed in her task. You also see her delicate eyelashes and her fine, red hairband. Glowing sunlight envelops her in a velvety atmosphere. Soft, reflected light brings out the warm brown of the spotless wooden floor.
You can see Young Woman Peeling Apples and other paintings of the Dutch Golden Age at the Metropolitan Museum. This painting will appear in the special exhibition called "Vermeer's Masterpiece The Milkmaid." This exhibition celebrates the genius of Johannes Vermeer, one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age. You can see his painting The Milkmaid and five more Vermeer paintings with works by other artists of the time, such as Nicolaes Maes. "Vermeer's Masterpiece The Milkmaid" opens September 10, 2009, and continues through November 29. For more information, visit the Museum's website at www.metmuseum.org.
Thank you for listening. Join us for the next TweenCast [episode] from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The exhibition is made possible by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, Daphne Recanati Kaplan and Thomas S. Kaplan, and Bernard and Louise Palitz.
The music on this podcast [episode] is licensed and used courtesy of Naxos Rights International.
This has been an Antenna Audio production.