Home StoriesPart of Inside Our Collections

Milkmaids and the image of purity

The milkmaid who once extracted milk from the cow and prepared dairy products for the wider community had a mixed reputation. Robust, practical, pretty and pure, she was a symbol of wholesomeness and romantic pastoral innocence. But notions of milkmaids’ purity became tinged with corruption over time, through the sexualised commodification of their image, souring the milk they delivered. Julia Nurse explores their contradictory image.

Words by Julia Nurse

  • In pictures

About the author

Black and white photograph of Julia Nurse, a white woman with brown hair, smiling. She wears an animal-print dress and the corners of paintings are visible in the background.

Julia Nurse


Julia Nurse is a collections research specialist at Wellcome Collection with a background in Art History and Museum Studies. She currently runs the Exploring Research programme, and has a particular interest in the medieval and early modern periods, especially the interaction of medicine, science and art within print culture.