Girl with a Pearl Earring is an oil painting by 17th-century painter Johannes Vermeer. It is a tronie of a girl with a headscarf and a pearl earring. The painting has been in the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague since 1902.
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.
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 an exotic dress, an oriental turban, and an improbably large pearl earring. In 2014, Dutch astrophysicist Vincent Icke raised doubts about the material of the earring and argued that it looks more like polished tin than pearl on the grounds of the spectacular reflection, the pear shape and the large size of the earring.
NO ONE KNOWS FOR SURE WHO THE GIRL IS.
Scholars estimate the painting was completed in 1665. The painting is an example of a type of work called a tronie. Popular in the Dutch Golden Age, tronies were paintings that focused on the face of a subject with an added element of fantasy or an exaggeration of expression that differentiates them from portraits.
GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING ISN’T ITS ONLY NAME.
The painting has alternately been called Girl In A Turban, Head Of Girl In A Turban, The Young Girl With Turban, and Head of a Young Girl.
THE PAINTING ALSO HAS A NICKNAME.
Often Girl with a Pearl Earring is referred to as the “Mona Lisa of the North.” This is partially because of the girl’s curious expression, and in part because of the mystery surrounding the piece itself.
VERMEER LIKELY USED THE SAME EARRING FOR ANOTHER OF HIS PAINTINGS.
A similar teardrop pearl can be spotted in A Woman Brought A Letter By A Maid. Vermeer often reused props, models, and settings in his works.
ITS BLACK BACKGROUND WAS ONCE A GLOSSY GREEN.
Modern restorations of the painting found trace amounts of indigo and weld, a glaze mixture that would have made the dark underpainting glisten. Over the centuries, pigments in the glaze have broken down to change the painting’s color.
THIS PRICELESS PAINTING SOLD FOR NEXT TO NOTHING.
More than two hundred years passed between the painting’s creation and its sale at auction in 1881. There, Dutch Army officer and art collector Arnoldus Andries des Tombe purchased Girl with a Pearl Earring for just 2 guilders with a 30-cent premium. Upon des Tombe’s death in the winter of 1902, the work was willed to The Hague’s art museum the Mauritshuis, where it can still be seen today.
VERMEER MAY HAVE USED MECHANICAL MEANS TO CREATE THIS PAINTING AND MANY MORE.
The Dutch master’s distinctive style avoids hard lines, relying on shades of light and shadow alone. Art historians have long debated whether mechanical means may have helped Vermeer render light in this way. A camera obscura is the most popular theory, and the 2013 documentary Tim‘s Vermeer followed an experiment that seemed to prove that Vermeer’s method included a careful arrangement of mirrors to guide his hand in painting.
GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING WILL NEVER LEAVE HOME AGAIN.
In recent years, The Mauritshuis loaned Girl with a Pearl Earring to Japan, Italy and the United States for exhibitions. But once this tour concluded in July of 2014, the museum announced the painting would stay in their collection within their walls indefinitely. And so Girl with a Pearl Earring joined the ranks of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Picasso’s Guernica, and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as works sworn to stay safe in their home museums for all time.
IT PROBABLY WASN’T A REAL PEARL.
In December of 2014, Vincent Icke, a professor of Theoretical Astronomy, wrote in New Scientist that the light reflecting off the earring in Girl with a Pearl Earring wouldn’t match that of an actual pearl.
The size of the pearl also makes it suspect. Curators Quentin Buvelot and Ariane van Suchtelen explained, “Large pearls were rare and ended up in the hands of the richest people on the planet. In the seventeenth century, cheaper glass pearls, usually from Venice, were also quite common. They were made from glass, which was lacquered to give it a matte finish. Maybe the girl is wearing such a handcrafted ‘pearl’.”