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Nicolaes Maes, The Idle Servant

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 × 53.3 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Richard Simmons, 1847
Inventory number NG207
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
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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