Jan Vermeer’s painting, Mistress and Maid, painted c. 1667-68, portrays a domestic scene that exhibits the artist’s preference for blue and yellow color scheme and female models. A mistress sits at a table while her maid reads her a letter before being interrupted. The painting is one of twenty-one Vermeer paintings sold in Amsterdam on May 16, 1696.
The large-scale figures set against a plain background with a barely discernible curtain illustrate the painter’s interest in light effects and compositional balance. It is believed to be one of Vermeer’s later works due to its mastery of techniques such as glazing and impasto. Henry Clay Frick purchased the painting after World War I.
Through macro X-ray fluorescence, elemental distribution maps have revealed that there is an original composition under the degraded curtain seen in the foreground of the artwork, suggesting that Vermeer originally intended something different for that area of the painting.
Overall, Mistress and Maid is an excellent example of how Vermeer used natural lighting effects to create intimate domestic scenes with his signature blue and yellow palettes. The unique details observed through modern technology continues to reveal new insights about one of Vermeer’s greatest works.