Jan Vermeer. Girl with a Pearl Earring , 1665

Painting Girl with a Pearl Earring by Jan Vermeer

Jan Vermeer. Girl with a Pearl Earring , 1665
Jan Vermeer. Girl with a Pearl Earring , 1665

Jan Vermeer van Delft’s Girl with a Pearl Earring is perhaps the most enigmatic portrait of the Golden Age of Dutch painting. The masterpiece is also known under the names “Girl in a Turban” and “Girl’s Face”. The artist captured a short moment when the young beauty, leaving, suddenly turned around. From whatever point you look – huge clear eyes look directly at the viewer, leading him to an incomprehensible thrill. Two tiny highlights accentuate the liveliness of the look.

Wet lips are slightly parted, as if a stranger wants to say something goodbye. The exotic outfit adds mystery and suggests that we are faced with the heroine of a fairy tale. The robe’s vertical folds accentuate the soft oval of the face. The flying edge of the turban serves as a visual marker for rapid head turn. A dark, almost black background gives the image a velvet depth, three-dimensionality and does not distract attention from the main thing – from a gentle image, as if snatched by light from the darkness of centuries.

Author: Jan Vermeer (1632-1675).
Year of writing: about 1665
Size: 44.5 x 39 cm.
Style: Baroque.
Genre: Portrait.
Technique: Oil.
Material: Canvas.
Location: Royal Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Jan Vermeer. Lady Writing a Letter, 1665
Jan Vermeer. Lady Writing a Letter, 1665

A beautiful picture asks many questions but does not provide answers.

In this, only the famous “La Gioconda” by Leonardo da Vinci can compete with her. Who posed for the painter – his wife, the eldest daughter, or, perhaps, the same maid Grit from the novel by the writer Tracy Chevalier? There is an invisible connection between the creator and the model.

Let us recall the paintings of Jan Vermeer: ​​”An Officer and a Laughing Girl”, “Geographer”, “Glass of Wine”, “Milkmaid”. Characters on the canvas live their own lives, they are surrounded by many objects. We watch the heroes, but they do not notice our presence. And “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is here, next to it. She sees the viewer, she looks directly at him, as if she is present in our world.

The author did not give his work a title. In the register of 1676, compiled after the death of the genius, it is simply listed as “a throne in the Turkish style.” The painting was given the official name in 1995, before the exhibition in Washington. But the main mystery of the masterpiece is that very large pendant in the shape of a drop, wandering from one work of the master to another. We see her in 8 more paintings by Vermeer. Of greatest interest are “Woman with a Pearl Necklace” and “Lady Writing a Letter”: both have pearl strings, and the earrings differ noticeably from them in brilliance.

Jan Vermeer. Woman with a Pearl Necklace, 1662-1665
Jan Vermeer. Woman with a Pearl Necklace, 1662-1665

Painting Girl with a Pearl Earring by Jan Vermeer – a brooding gaze of the northern Mona Lisa

There were heated debates around the decoration. Researchers have put forward versions that it is made of glass, silver, porcelain or tin – after all, the mother-of-pearl surface does not refract light at all. The reflection of the white collar at the bottom of the bead also raises doubts. Maybe the sparkling translucent drop is the author’s fantasy that never really existed? After all, the loop with which it is attached to the ear is not on the canvas. Moreover, by enlarging the “pearl”, one can be convinced of the absence of clear contours – abstract strokes create only the illusion of form.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the painting was in a deplorable state. In 1881, the masterpiece was sold at auction for 2.3 guilders (today it is about $ 27). The owner bequeathed the “Girl” to the Royal Gallery, where she ended up in 1902. It was restored in 1882, 1915, 1960 and 1994. After the last large-scale restoration, the colors shone again, and the earring acquired its original even glow.

In February 2018, the Mauritshuis Museum conducted the Girl in the Spotlight study. For two weeks, Vermeer’s creation was studied using modern instruments. The analysis revealed some of the artist’s secrets. The pigments are precisely identified: white – white lead from Northern England, ultramarine – Afghan lapis lazuli powder, which cost more than gold, red – cinnabar and Mexican carmine.

Restorer Abby Vandiver, who directed the Girl in the Spotlight project
Restorer Abby Vandiver, who directed the Girl in the Spotlight project

It was possible to establish that the background was greenish.

The master covered the black base with a glaze composed of natural dyes – yellow and blue. The area on the left side of the canvas still shines with emerald.

“Girl with a Pearl Earring” is over 350 years old, but it seems to be only gaining popularity. The work has appeared in popular TV series and films, and in 2014 a parody of a street art masterpiece by the English artist Banksy – “Girl with a pierced eardrum”, appeared on the wall of a building in Bristol.