Is This a Pearl Earring or Something Else?
Exquisite Beauty from the hand of Johannes Vermeer
Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) never traveled from his home in the Netherlands and left only 34 paintings for posterity (that we know of). In contrast, his Dutch contemporaries, Peter Paul Rubens left 615 paintings and Rembrandt as many as 787.
In the Dutch style, Vermeer primarily painted scenes of people at work or interacting with each other in homely settings. The scenes themselves are filled with minute and glimmering details of simple items, textures, and settings of Dutch life.
Every single work of Vermeer is a radiant masterpiece, but none more so than “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” (1655), often called the Dutch Mona Lisa. Books have been written and movies made about this incredible work of art, but a few interesting facts may help to sharpen our appreciation of it:
Vermeer used source materials (paints and pigments) from as far away Mexico, Asia, and the West Indies to achieve the exact brilliant color effects he was seeking in this work
It’s likely that Vermeer used a live model to paint this portrait due to the human details (eyelashes, realistic glance over the shoulder, unusual dress, etc.), but no one knows who she was.
The dark background reveals a setting of green draperies when the picture is X-rayed, so it is likely that Vermeer originally intended this as a portrait painting. Why he changed the background is anyone’s guess.
What has come to be known as a “pearl earring” is likely just a metallic pendant chosen to complement the Middle Eastern outfit the girl is modeling. It doesn’t hold the luster of a pearl.
Much more can be said of this beautiful work of art, but our small format gives us only a “vignette” of Vermeer’s greatness!