Title   Wilge geen melk (Search for the image)
Translated title Do You Want Milk?
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramerís drawing of a milk woman (`melkslijtsterí)

Code of occupational group 45220
Description A broadbacked woman sells milk from two buckets, which ordinarily hang from chains on a wooden yoke over her shoulders. She has lowered the buckets so that a female customer, kneeling down to the pails, can dip in a ceramic milk pot she holds in both hands. The seller's back is to the viewer. Behind these two women, on the left, is the window and steeple of a church. In the background to the right, a second milkmaid bearing milk pails suspended from a yoke walks towards the two women. She has her left hand on her hip and does not look especially pleased. Conceivably her rival got to the customer first.

Milk was sold door to door by rural peasants and dairywomen. Standards were enforced by local authorities for the quality of cheese and butter produced from milk and cream, in part because these were often shipped to other Dutch towns or exported to France, England, and Italy. However, there were no quality control standards governing milk sales. Occasionally milk was watered and thinned by unscrupulous vendors.

Milk was not drunk often as a beverage, except when it was mixed with cream, eggs, and beer or spiced wine into a special drink, "kandeel" or "caudle" to welcome the birth of a new baby. Milk spoils quickly and it was difficult to keep it during warm, humid months. In cooler weather, people might store milk in earthenware jugs in below-ground cellars, but it was best used very soon after purchase. Farm families with dairy cows drank buttermilk. Milk was used in cooking, especially in making porridges with boiled milk thickened with wheat, barley, or broken bread and rolls; porridges were a common evening meal.

Dutch art had a tradition of depicting milk-maids, the symbolic maid of Holland, but they were typically seen either milking cows, as is the case of Lucas van Leyden's famous 16th-century engraving and in several Italianate Dutch paintings of shepherds and shepherdesses, cowherds and milkmaids, or they were shown standing with milk buckets suspended from yokes.

Less frequently were women depicted selling milk, or making deliveries of milk to village or city customers. However, one large painting by Reynier Covijn is thematically related to Bramer's drawing, although it lacks Bramer's immediacy. Covijn's "Milkmaid" (Museum Bredius), who carries milk in very large metal cans, is accepting cash from her female customer. Abraham Bloemaert in 1632 also painted a peasant woman with milk jugs (Centraal Museum). Adriaen van Ostade's drawing of a woman selling milk from a bucket to women and girls holding earthenware jugs taps imagery similar to Bramer's (Paris, Fondation Custodia).

Source Donna R. Barnes, Ed D, Street scenes, Leonard Bramer's drawings of seventeenth-century daily life (Hofstra Museum exhibition 1991). Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York.

Click here for the introductory essay on Bramer's drawings.

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