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The milk of life

Tuesday, 9 October, 2018

My mother milked cows by hand and emptied countless buckets of their milk into churns that were then taken by my father to the local branch creamery of the Dairy Disposal Company, which was the name the nascent Free State had given to the Condensed Milk Company of Ireland. For both my parents, milk was more than a product. It was life.

Johannes Vermeer painted The Milkmaid around 1660 and it’s one of the most brilliant of his 34 brilliant works that still exist today. As the Rijksmuseum puts it:

“A maidservant pours milk, entirely absorbed in her work. Except for the stream of milk, everything else is still. Vermeer took this simple everyday activity and made it the subject of an impressive painting — the woman stands like a statue in the brightly lit room. Vermeer also had an eye for how light by means of hundreds of colourful dots that play over the surface of objects.”

The Milkmaid


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