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Girl with a Pearl Earring

Artist: Jan Vermeer
Created: c. 1665
Dimensions (cm): 39.0 x 44.5
Format: Oil on canvas
Location: Mauritshuis Museum, The Hague, Netherlands

Vermeer was a seventeenth century Dutch painter who is most famous for the way he was able to achieve a stunning balance between light and shadow in his paintings.    Sometimes referred to as The Dutch Mona Lisa, (this phrase was coined by Ludwig Goldschieder, an art dealer who considered the painting to be Vermeer’s most beautiful work), Girl with a Pearl Earring is probably Vermeer’s best known painting. 

No one really knows who the girl in the painting is.  There is speculation that she was Vermeer’s eldest daughter Maria, who, at the time the painting is dated, would have been about 12 or 13 years old, the approximate age of the girl in the painting.  The painting itself offers us few clues as to the identity of the model. 

The background is dark and undefined.  One reason for the use of such a dark background is to enhance the three dimensional effect of the figure. It is interesting to note that in eleven of Vermeer’s paintings, the women are wearing pearls.  Other examples include Girl with a Red Hat and Woman with a Pearl Necklace.  Pearls in the 17th Century were a status symbol and it is most likely that the pearls worn by many of his models and most certainly by the model in Girl With a Pearl Earring, would have been borrowed by Vermeer. 

The pearl earring worn by the young girl in Girl With a Pearl Earring is considered to be the most beautiful painted pearl in all of Vermeer’s works. But perhaps what is most intriguing about this painting and what has kept viewers entranced by it over the centuries is not just the pearl, but also the way in which the girl is looking out at us, as if she is asking us to engage her. 


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