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Key facts
Full title Interior with a Sleeping Maid and her Mistress ('The Idle Servant')
Artist Nicolaes Maes
Artist dates 1634 - 1693
Date made 1655
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 70 x 53.3 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Richard Simmons, 1847
Inventory number NG207
Location Gallery B
Collection Main Collection
The Idle Servant
Nicolaes Maes

Although the title of this picture is Interior with a Sleeping Maid and her Mistress it has become known as The Idle Servant. The young woman is slumped on a stool, head in hand, taking a snooze after the hard work involved in preparing a large meal; heavy pots and pans litter the floor. But the mistress doesn‘t appear to be condemning her for a mortal sin – she shrugs her shoulders with a smile that seems to say, ’what am I to do with her?‘

Nicolaes Maes was for a while a student of Rembrandt. Here he has used his master’s technique of chiaroscuro (’light dark', contrasting use of light and shade to create a dramatic effect) to pick out the important points in the story. The contrasts and rich colours lend atmosphere and demonstrate Maes’s considerable skills in portraying texture, mood and character – seventeenth-century Dutch genre painting at its finest.

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