RONNI BAER: When I first looked at this painting in the context of this exhibition, I asked myself, “How can we tell the difference between a mistress and a maid?” And in this case with the help of a costume historian, I learned that the woman holding the child’s hand is indeed a maid.
NARRATOR: Maids wore dark aprons to hide the stains associated with their work. The mistress often wore a white apron.
RONNI BAER: I assume that means that the woman whose back is to us, looking out of the house, is the mistress of the house. Pieter de Hooch was very well known for giving views into adjacent spaces, and this is a wonderful example of him focusing on a courtyard, which is kind of both interior and exterior, and then giving us a view down the hallway into the street outside. The courtyard was located between the front and rear of the house, and it allowed natural light to come into the house, and it also allowed the inhabitants of the house to come out for some fresh air without having to go into public. What was very interesting was to learn how maids were looked at in contemporary literature and theater as untrustworthy; as of easy virtue, as thieving, not very nice people. But in Dutch genre paintings, maids are usually depicted sympathetically, and in this case, the way that the maid looks down at her charge and the little girl looks up at the maid is a very tender moment.