The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

“Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer

Meisje met de parel

“Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer portrays a girl wearing an exotic dress, an Eastern turban, and an improbably large pearl earring. The work is signed “IVMeer” and is one of Vermeer’s most famous paintings, but very little is actually known about the background story to this picture. The identity of who the girl is a mystery.

Johannes Vermeer specialised in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. Vermeer worked slowly and with great care, and frequently used expensive pigments. He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment in the use of light, and his technique is typified by this masterpiece. This painting was originally titled “Girl with a Turban” and in the second half of the twentieth century that the name changed to “Girl with a Pearl Earring”.

There has been significant speculation about the identity of the girl in this painting. Historically it was believed to be Vermeer’s eldest daughter, Maria, who was about twelve or thirteen-years-old at the time this painting was created. However, there is no evidence for this proposition. The mystery about the girl’s identity inspired a historical novel, entitled “Girl with a Pearl Earring” in 1999 by Tracy Chevalier, which fictionalising the circumstances of the painting’s creation which identifies the girl as a fictional servant. The book also inspired a film and a play of the same name.

Vermeer was recognised during his lifetime in Delft and The Hague, but his modest celebrity gave way to obscurity after his death. Since the 20th century, Vermeer’s reputation has improved, and he is now acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                  Girl with a Pearl Earring
  • Artist:                 Johannes Vermeer
  • Year:                  1665
  • Type:                  Oil on canvas
  • Period:               Dutch Golden Age
  • Dimensions:     Height: 44.5 cm (17.5 in). Width: 39 cm (15.4 in).
  • Museum:           Mauritshuis

Artist Essential Facts:

  • Artist:                            Johannes Vermeer
  • Born:                             1632 – Delft, Dutch Republic
  • Died:                              1675 (aged 43) -Delft, Dutch Republic
  • Nationality:                  Dutch
  • Movement                    Dutch Golden Age, Baroque
  • Notable works:

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“Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.” Leonardo da Vinci

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Photo Credit: 1) Johannes Vermeer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons