Standing in front of a rough wall, covered with white plaster, the milkmaid has a dignity that goes far beyond the simple task she performs. There is a sense of wholeness and morality about her that comes from the steadiness of her gaze as she carefully measures milk into an earthenware bowl. These qualities also derive from the sheer physical power of her being, which Vermeer has emphasized through the unusually bold modeling of her figure. See more
Finally, they are reinforced by the perspective of the window, which reinforces the importance and permanence of his gesture.
Vermeer was a master at using light to enhance the mood and character of his images. Here, for example, he differentiated the light on the back wall to reinforce the three-dimensionality of the figure. He juxtaposed the bright yellow of the milkmaid's right shoulder against the shaded portion of the wall, while placing her shaded left shoulder against a bright backdrop. He then painted a white contour line along this shoulder to accentuate the figure's strong silhouette.
The most dramatic lighting effects occur on the table, where Vermeer evokes the textures of the bowl, jug, and earthenware basket, as well as the freshness of the breads, with a multitude of specular reflections. He created these effects through a complex layering of paints, often applied wet-on-wet. Yellow and blue are the dominant colors in The Milkmaid. The distinguishing feature of Vermeer's palette, when compared to that of his contemporaries, is the use of expensive natural ultramarine: this gives the blues here an exceptional vibrancy, in keeping with his equally bright use of lead yellow. Yet the color combinations in The Dairy Girl are complex and varied, and are not limited to yellow and blue. The contrast of these colors is seen in the rich contrast between the green of the tablecloth and the crimson skirt of the maid.