Title   Soutte Mel (Search for the image)
Translated title Butter
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramer’s drawing of sellers of butter (‘boterverkoopsters’)

Code of occupational group 41030
Description Two women are talking together near a farmhouse and barn with thatched roofs. The older one is seated facing a younger woman who stands. The older woman rests her right hand on top of a closed wooden barrel. The younger woman has one barrel tucked under her right arm, resting the barrel against her hip. She holds a slightly smaller one in her left arm, pressing it against her chest and shoulders.

Milk and butter came into Delft from nearby dairy farms. Butter was brought to the municipal butter market. Butter was used locally in cooking; and high quality Dutch butter was an important export item. Milk could be sold on a door-to-door basis. Milk had to be used quickly in hot weather, lest it spoil.

Images of butter occur in some still life paintings, notably presented in a Chinese export porcelain bowl in Clara Peeters' "Still Life with Crab, Shrimps, and Lobster" (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) and in a Wan-Li porcelain bowl seen in an earlier painting by Floris Gerritsz. van Schooten, "Breakfast of Mussels, Cheese, Bread, and Porridge" (Heinz Family Collection). Butter bespoke prosperity and plenty. Interestingly, culinary tradition held that one ought not to eat butter and cheese together on bread, but should moderately choose one or the other accompaniment to bread.

H. Wichmann read Bramer's Dutch as reading "Butteneel" for which his German explanation is translated as butter-seller. A more plausible reading of the handwriting is "soutte mel" with a "k" missing from the word "melk" or milk. Salted milk cream was churned to produce butter. Bramer had executed a signed drawing of butter sellers, carrying the butter in wooden butter-barrels to the Butterhouse in Delft. It was listed in Wichmann's catalog of Bramer's drawings as number 185; and was identified as belonging to the collection of the Municipal Museum in Delft.

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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