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Jun 2, 2008

The Girl with a Pearl Earring
painted by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, 1665
The following is adapted from an in-depth study by Jonathan Janson

The Girl with a Pearl Earring is universally recognized as one of Johannes Vermeer's absolute masterworks

What is it about the Pearl?

The young girl’s tear drop pearl hangs freely and motionless, “caught within a pool of recessive space.”

Its form and substance are essentially defined by the thick white fleck of impasto which registers the same beams of light which rake across the girl’s face and turban and by the soft reflection that has gather up some of the light cast off by the intensely light band of the white collar below.

The ovoid shape conveys the “experience of weight and volume,” 
qualities which are less appreciable in a spherical formed pearl.

It is likely that a pearl of such dimension and form did not exist -the artist had either represented an artificial one or that he deliberately exaggerated its dimensions [or both].

Vermeer's women are often associated with pearls, so much that his oeuvre itself has become synonymous with the pearl.

In 1908 Jan Veth said about Girl with a Pearl Earring: "More than with any other VEREMEER one could say that it looks as if it were blended from the dust of crushed pearls."

Pearls in the Seventeenth-Century

In C17th pearls were probably an extremely important status symbol.

"In 1660 Samuel Pepys (an English diarist) paid 4 1/2 pounds for a pearl necklace, and in 1666 he paid 80 pounds for another, which at the time amounted to about 45 and 800 guilders respectively." 

"Pearls are linked with vanity but also with virginity... The most beautiful pearl in Vermeer's work is undoubtedly that worn by the Girl with a Pearl Earring - a massive creation of highlights and shadows and obscure shadows..... Artificial pearls were invented by M. Jacquin in France around this time, thin spheres of glass filled with l'essence d'orient, a preparation made of white wax and silvery scales of a river fish called ablette, or bleak, but cultured pearls were also coming in from Venice. This girl of Vermeer's seems to be wearing a glass "drop earring" which has been varnished to look like an immense pearl......Vermeer's pearl is probably doubly artificial, having been enlarged to such a size by the painter's imagination and desire to adorn the girl with something spectacular." 

Vermeer's Pearls

The drop, or tear shaped pearl seen in the Girl with a Pearl Earring, was portrayed in 8 other canvases by Vermeer:

Woman with a Pearl Necklace, Woman with a Lute, The Concert, A Lady Writing, Girl with a Red Hat, A Study of a Young Woman, Mistress and Her Maid, and Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid.

All of these pictures date from the mid 1660s on.

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Posted: Jun 2, 2008 5:53am


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Jenny Dooley
, 3, 2 children
Eastlakes, SW, Australia
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