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Girl with a Pearl Earring

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Girl with a Pearl Earring
Dutch: Meisje met de parel
ArtistJohannes Vermeer
Yearc. 1665
MediumOil on canvas
MovementDutch Golden Age painting
Dimensions44.5 cm × 39 cm (17.5 in × 15 in)
LocationMauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands

Girl with a Pearl Earring (Dutch: Meisje met de parel)[1][2] is an oil painting by Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer, dated c. 1665. Going by various names over the centuries, it became known by its present title towards the end of the 20th century after the earring worn by the girl portrayed there.[3] The work has been in the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague since 1902 and has been the subject of various literary and cinematic treatments.


The painting is a tronie, the Dutch 17th-century description of a "head" that was not meant to be a portrait. It depicts a European girl wearing "exotic dress", an "oriental turban", and what appears to be a very large pearl as an earring.[1] The subject of the painting is unknown, with it being possible either that she was a real model, or that Vermeer created a more generalised and mysterious woman, perhaps representing a Sibyl or biblical figure.[4] There has been speculation that she is the artist's eldest daughter, Maria, though this has been dismissed as an anachronism by some art historians.[5][6]

The work is oil on canvas and is 44.5 cm (17.5 in) high and 39 cm (15 in) wide. It is signed "IVMeer" but not dated. It is estimated to have been painted around 1665.[7]

After the most recent restoration of the painting in 1994, the subtle colour scheme and the intimacy of the girl's gaze toward the viewer have been greatly enhanced.[8] During the restoration, it was discovered that the dark background, today somewhat mottled, was originally a deep enamel-like green. This effect was produced by applying a thin transparent layer of paint—a glaze—over the black background seen now. However, the two organic pigments of the green glaze, indigo and weld, have faded.[9] In 2014, Dutch astrophysicist Vincent Icke [nl] raised doubts about the material of the earring and argued that it looks more like polished tin than pearl on the grounds of the specular reflection, the pear shape and the large size of the earring.[10][11]

Ownership and display[edit]

The Mauritshuis in The Hague, 2011, showing a representation of the painting at right

On the advice of Victor de Stuers, who for years tried to prevent Vermeer's rare works from being sold to parties abroad, Arnoldus Andries des Tombe purchased the work at an auction in The Hague in 1881, for only two guilders plus thirty cents buyer's premium (around €24 at current purchasing power[12]). At the time, it was in poor condition, with parts of the paint layer having become detached. Des Tombe had no heirs and by a bequest donated this and other paintings to the Mauritshuis in 1902.[13]

The painting has since been widely exhibited about the world until in 2014 the Mauritshuis took the decision that it should not leave the museum in the future.[14] By that time, as a result of its promotion, a CNN survey named it one of the world's most recognizable paintings.[15]

Painting technique[edit]

The painting was investigated by the scientists of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage and FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics (AMOLF) Amsterdam.[16]

The ground is dense and yellowish in colour and is composed of chalk, lead white, ochre and very little black. The dark background of the painting contains bone black, weld (luteolin, Reseda luteola), chalk, small amounts of red ochre, and indigo. The face and draperies were painted mainly using ochres, natural ultramarine, bone black, charcoal black and lead white.[17]

In February-March 2018 an international team of art experts spent two weeks studying the painting in a specially constructed glass workshop in the museum, open to observation by the public. The non-invasive research project included removing the work from its frame for study with microscopes, X-ray equipment and a special scanner to learn more about the methods and materials used by Vermeer.[18][19] The project, with the name The Girl in the Spotlight, was headed by Abbie Vandivere, conservator at the Mauritshuis,[20] and results were published by the Mauritshuis.[21] A blog by Vandivere reveals many details of the project.[22]

Results included the presence of delicate eyelashes, a green curtain behind the head, changes made, and details of the pigments used and where they came from. The lack of eyebrows and featureless background had led to speculation that Vermeer was painting an idealised or abstract face; the later discoveries showed that he was painting a real person in a real space. The pearl has been described as an illusion due to having "no contour and also no hook to hang it from the girl’s ear".[23]

Painting title[edit]

The painting has gone under a number of titles in various countries over the centuries. Originally it may have been one of the two tronies "painted in the Turkish fashion" (Twee tronijnen geschildert op sijn Turx) recorded in the inventory at the time of Vermeer’s death.[24] It may later have been the work appearing in the catalogue to a 1696 sale of painting in Amsterdam, where it is described as a "Portrait in Antique Costume, uncommonly artistic" (Een Tronie in Antique Klederen, ongemeen konstig).[25]

After the bequest to the Mauritshuis, the painting became known as Girl with a Turban (Meisje met tulband) and it was noted of its original description in the 1675 inventory that the turban had become a fashion accessory of some fascination during the period of European wars against the Turks.[26] By 1995, the title Girl with a Pearl (Meisje met de parel) was considered more appropriate.[27] Pearls, in fact, figure in 21 of Vermeer's pictures,[28] including very prominently in Woman with a Pearl Necklace. Earrings alone are also featured in A Lady Writing a Letter, Study of a Young Woman, Girl with a Red Hat, and Girl with a Flute. Similarly shaped ear-pieces were used as convincing accessories in 20th-century fakes that were briefly attributed to Vermeer, such as Young Woman with a Blue Hat, Smiling Girl and The Lace Maker.[29]

Generally, the English title of the painting was simply Head of a Young Girl, although it was sometimes known as The Pearl. One critic explained that this name was given, not just from the detail of the earring, but because the figure glows with an inner radiance against the dark background.[30]

Cultural impact[edit]

Some of the first literary treatments of the painting were in poems. For Yann Lovelock in his sestina, "Vermeer’s Head of a Girl", it is the occasion for exploring the interplay between imagined beauty interpreted on canvas and living experience.[31] W. S. Di Piero reimagined how the "Girl with Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer" might look in the modern setting of Haight Street in San Francisco,[32] while Marilyn Chandler McEntyre commented on the girl's private, self-possessed personality.[33]

There have also been fictional appearances. As La ragazza col turbante (Girl with a Turban, 1986), it features as the general title of Marta Morazzoni’s collection of five short novellas set in the Baroque era. In the course of the title story, a Dutch art dealer sells Vermeer’s painting to an eccentric Dane in the year 1658. Indifferent to women in real life, the two men can only respond to the idealization of the feminine in art.[34] Tracy Chevalier's 1999 historical novel Girl with a Pearl Earring fictionalized the circumstances of the painting's creation. There, Vermeer becomes close to a servant whom he uses as an assistant and has sit for him as a model while wearing his wife's earrings. The novel was adapted into a 2003 film of the same name and a 2008 play.[35][36]

In addition, the painting appeared in the 2007 film St Trinian's, where a group of unruly schoolgirls steal it to raise funds to save their school.[37] At that period, too, fellow artists made iconic use of Vermeer's painting. Ethiopian American Awol Erizku recreated it as a print in 2009, centering a young black woman and replacing the pearl earring with bamboo earrings as a commentary on the lack of black figures in museums and galleries. His piece is titled Girl with a Bamboo Earring.[38] And in 2014 the English street artist Banksy reproduced the painting as a mural in Bristol, incorporating an alarm box in place of the pearl earring and calling the artwork Girl with a Pierced Eardrum.[39]

A climate activist representing the Just Stop Oil campaign attempted to glue his head to the glass protecting the painting in October 2022, and was covered in tomato soup by another protester.[40] The protest did not damage the painting, and three people were arrested for public violence against goods.[40][41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Girl with a Pearl Earring". Mauritshuis. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  2. ^ "Meisje met de parel". Mauritshuis (in Dutch). Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  3. ^ Janson, Jonathan. "Titles". Girl with a Pearl Earring.
  4. ^ Sooke, Alastair. "Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring: Who was she?". BBC Culture. Retrieved 15 May 2023.
  5. ^ Binstock, Benjamin (30 October 2013). "Who Was the Girl With the Pearl Earring?". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 15 May 2023.
  6. ^ Liedtke, Walter (2008). Vermeer: The Complete Paintings. The Classical Art Series (1st ed.). Abrams. ISBN 978-0810983366.
  7. ^ "Details: Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665". Mauritshuis. Archived from the original on 20 January 2018. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  8. ^ Wadum, Jørgen (1994). Vermeer Illuminated. Conservation, Restoration and Research. with contributions by L. Struik van der Loeff and R. Hoppenbrouwers. The Hague: V & K Publishing. OCLC 015767938.
  9. ^ Vandivere, Abbie; Van Loon, Annelies; Callewaert, Tom; Haswell, Ralph; Proaño Gaibor, Art Ness; Van Keulen, Henk; Leonhardt, Emilien; Dik, Joris (2019). "Fading into the background: the dark space surrounding Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring". Heritage Science. 7. doi:10.1186/s40494-019-0311-9. S2CID 202754495.
  10. ^ Icke, V. (December 2014). "Meisje met geen parel" [Girl with no pearl earring]. Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Natuurkunde [Dutch Journal of Physics] (in Dutch). 80 (12): 418–419.
  11. ^ Janssen, Joris (28 November 2014). "Curieuze ontdekking: Meisje met de parel heeft geen parel" [Curious discovery: Girl with a Pearl Earring has no pearl]. New Scientist (in Dutch). Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  12. ^ "Value of the guilder / euro". www.iisg.nl. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  13. ^ Vrij Nederland (magazine) (26 February 1996), p. 35–69.
  14. ^ Lestienne, Cécile (21 July 2014). "Grounded: the great art treasures that no longer go out on the road". the Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  15. ^ "10 most famous paintings in the world". CNN Style. 21 November 2019.
  16. ^ Groen, Karin M; Van der Werf, I. D.; van den Berg, K. J.; Boon, J. J. (1998). "The Scientific Examination of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring". In Gaskell, I.; Jonker, M. (eds.). Vermeer Studies: Symposium Papers XXXIII Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts. National Gallery of Art. pp. 169–183. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  17. ^ "Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring". ColourLex.
  18. ^ "The secrets of Girl with a Pearl Earring". BBC News. 14 March 2018. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  19. ^ Pieters, Janene (1 February 2018). ""Girl with a Pearl Earring" to be scanned, analyzed in public view". NLTimes. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  20. ^ "The Girl in the Spotlight". Mauritshuis. 2018. Retrieved 28 April 2020.
  21. ^ "Closer to Vermeer and the Girl". Mauritshuis. Retrieved 28 April 2020.
  22. ^ Vandivere, Abbie. "Girl with a Blog". Mauritshuis. Retrieved 28 April 2020.
  23. ^ Brown, Mark (28 April 2020). "Dutch researchers coax secrets from Girl with a Pearl Earring". The Guardian.
  24. ^ Wolf, Bryan Jay (2001). Vermeer and the Invention of Seeing. University of Chicago. p. 138. ISBN 9780226905044.
  25. ^ Read, Herbert (1965). Johannes Vermeer. Knowledge Publications. p. 8.
  26. ^ Schneider, Norbert (2000). Vermeer, 1632-1675: Veiled Emotions. Taschen. p. 69. ISBN 9783822863237.
  27. ^ Graafland, Kees (9 December 2014). "Meisje met de parel draagt helemaal geen parel" [Girl with a pearl earring doesn't wear a pearl at all]. AD (in Dutch).
  28. ^ Bertram, Anthony (1948). Jan Vermeer of Delft. Studio Publications.
  29. ^ Janson, Jonathan. "Vermeer: Erroneous Attributions and Forgeries". Essential Vermeer.
  30. ^ Kahr, Madlyn Millner (1978). Dutch Painting in the Seventeenth Century. Harper & Row. p. 288. ISBN 9780064300872.
  31. ^ Lovelock, Yann (1984). Building Jerusalem. Rivelin Press. pp. 30–31. ISBN 9780904524482.
  32. ^ Di Piero, W. S. (2001). "Girl with Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer". Skirts And Slacks. Alfred A. Knopf.
  33. ^ McEntyre, Marilyn Chandler (2000). "Girl with a Pearl Earring". In Quiet Light: poems on Vermeer's women. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans. p. 25. ISBN 0-8028-3879-0.
  34. ^ Lazzaro-Weis, Carol (2011). From Margins to Mainstream: Feminism and Fictional Modes in Italian Women's Writing. University of Pennsylvania. p. 141. ISBN 9780812206708.
  35. ^ "Girl with a Pearl Earring (2004)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 12 April 2018. Retrieved 7 August 2022.
  36. ^ "Girl with a Pearl Earring". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 August 2022.
  37. ^ Jenkins, Mark (8 October 2009). "St. Trinian's Girls Aren't As Bad As They Wanna Be". NPR. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  38. ^ "Awol Erizku – Girl with the Pearl Earring". Nolden/H Fine Art. 25 July 2016.
  39. ^ "New Banksy 'earring' mural appears in Bristol Harbourside". BBC News. 20 October 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  40. ^ a b Chung, Christine (27 October 2022). "Climate Protester Glues His Head to 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' Painting". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 October 2022.
  41. ^ Henley, Jon (27 October 2022). "Just Stop Oil activist tries to glue own head to Girl with a Pearl Earring". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 October 2022.

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