The rest of this intimate exhibition provides a context for Vermeer's masterpiece. To that end it displays similarly-themed scenes from other Dutch painters as well as the Met's other Vermeers, which might be called masterpieces in their own right. A selection of drawings and engravings illustrate the trope of Vermeer's time that milkmaids and kitchenmaids were objects of lust. His depiction, however, deviates from the stereotype. He treats her with the grace and dignity of the ladies in his other domestic scenes, despite the earthiness of her broad body doing useful work and surrounded by household implements. Although a small exhibition, this one gives the viewer a lot to soak up.
The exhibition comes on the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson finding the island of Manhattan, which inspired the Rijksmuseum's loan of this important piece. It is the second time The Milkmaid has been to America; the only other time was for the 1939 World's Fair. So this is a rare chance to see a rare painting by a master of color and light. If this exhibition doesn't satisfy your lust for beauty, walk down Fifth Avenue to the Frick Collection, which houses another three Vermeers. You'll have seen a quarter of Vermeer's oeuvre in an afternoon. Not a bad day's work.