New research into Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring
Girl with a Pearl Earring is one of the most famous paintings in the world. It was painted by Johannes Vermeer during the Golden Age. Every year, thousands of visitors visit the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, just to see this painting. New research has been done on the painting recently, which has brought it into the spotlight once again.
Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665
Mauritshuis, The Hague
Discovered by a coincidence
Vermeer only painted 34 artworks during his lifetime. However, amongst them were some true masterpieces. Girl with a Pearl Earring was painted around 1665. It was unclear where the painting had gone after Vermeer's death in 1675, until it re-appeared at an auction in The Hague in 1881. It was in a poor condition and quite dirty.
Luckily, two friends and art enthusiasts, Victor de Stuers and Arnoldus Andries des Tombe recognised Vermeer’s painting. They bought it for only two guilders and 30 cents (around 30 euros today). After Des Tombe died in 1902, it was discovered that he had secretly bequeathed the painting to the Mauritshuis in The Hague, which is its home still.
Who’s that girl?
Vermeer’s painting depicts a girl looking over her shoulder, wearing a yellow dress, a blue turban, and a large pearl earring. Although her face is very captivating, the painting is not a portrait, but a tronie.
A tronie typically shows a person with an exaggerated facial expression or a person in costume. This was a very popular type of painting in the Netherlands during the 17th century. Vermeer wanted to show a regular Dutch girl with a somewhat exotic appearance. This is why she is wearing a blue turban, something that was quite strange for the time.
Girl with a Pearl Earring is considered to be one of the most beautiful paintings in the Netherlands. A few details are especially noteworthy:
The famous pearl which captures our attention right away is actually a bit too large. Some researchers believe that it probably was a fake pearl, perhaps made of glass or silver. However, it’s such a beautiful detail, because Vermeer only painted the reflections of the light on it.
There is no visible earring hook between the girl’s ear and the pearl, so it almost looks as if the pearl is floating below her ear.
Have you ever noticed that the girl doesn’t have any eyebrows? Recent research shows that there are fine bright lines where her eyebrows are supposed to be. However, they can’t really be seen with the naked eye.
The background of the painting is very dark, which makes the girl look even more three-dimensional. Vermeer’s signature is located on the upper left corner. Whilst the dark background looks black, originally it was painted in a deep, dark green colour.
Ultramarine pigment was quite expensive during Vermeer’s time. Painters could only get it from a lapis lazuli stone, imported from the mountains of today’s Afghanistan. In the 17th Century, such a stone was more expensive than gold. However, Vermeer used a large quantity of the pigment in Girl with a Pearl Earring. It’s unclear how he could afford so much of it and where he was buying it from. So, this is something that still has to be discovered.
A team of international experts started their research on the painting about a month ago, between February 26 and March 11, in front of the public in a studio in the Golden Room in the Mauritshuis. The researchers used modern non-invasive technologies to learn more about the painting. Some insights were already shared with the public during a lecture organised in the museum on March 10.
After the research is concluded, Girl with a Pearl Earring will be one of the most thoroughly researched paintings in the world. For now, you can find it at its usual spot in the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
Have you been to the Mauritshuis to admire the painting? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments below!