Famous Artwork: Girl with a Pearl Earring

A reproduction of the Girl with the Pearl Earring drawn in pencil.
A reproduction of the Girl with the Pearl Earring drawn in pencil.

The Girl with a Pearl Earring is a world-famous 17th-century oil painting by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. The piece of art is housed in the Mauritshuis, an art museum based in The Hague, Netherlands. Between 2012 and 2014, the painting was displayed in other museums around the world while the Mauritshuis underwent renovations.


Almost nothing is known about the young lady who was used as the subject of the painting. Some historians believed she was Vermeer’s eldest daughter, while others think she was his lover. Other historians believe she was simply a model. Johannes Vermeer worked on the painting during the Dutch Golden Age, when the Dutch Republic was the art epicenter of Europe. Historians believe that the pearl was featured in another of Johannes’ work, A Woman Brought a Letter By A Maid, as the painter commonly reused his props and models in other projects. Historians also believe the painter employed the use of the camera obscura technique while working on the painting. The late 17th century saw the Dutch Republic experience an economic downturn which severely affected Johannes’ art business and many of his works were auctioned at low prices. The Girl with a Pearl Earring was sold to an art collector, Arnoldus Andries des Tombe, in 1881, who later donated it to the Mauritshuis in 1902.


Although the painting has the dimensions of a portrait (17.5 inches by 15 inches), it is a tronie, the Dutch term for “head,” which is a painting focused on the face of the model or subject. The painting features a young Caucasian woman dressed in a golden-brown dress and donning an exotic golden head turban with a white or ivory edge. The woman is depicted wearing a large earring on her left ear, which is speculated to be made of either tin or pearl. The painting is cast on a dark background which was originally a deep-green color.

Johannes Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer was a 17th-century Dutch painter who is credited for painting the Girl With a Pearl Earring. Vermeer was born in 1632 in a small Dutch town known as Delft to a middle-class craftsman, and in his youth moved to Amsterdam and lived on a street with numerous skilled painters. Vermeer began his painting career in the early 1650s when he apprenticed under the tutorship of other established painters. In 1653, Johannes was inducted as a member of the Guild of Saint Luke, an association of painters. Johannes Vermeer passed away in December 1675 after a short illness. Other works attributed to Johannes Vermeer include the similar Girl With a Pearl Necklace, and The Little Street, among others.


The mystery behind the painting has led to the growing popularity of the Girl With a Pearl Earring. During its brief global tour in 2014, the painting drew huge crowds, with an estimated 2.2 million people viewing the piece of art globally. The model’s captivating gaze has become one of the most identifiable faces in art history, and the painting has been dubbed as “the Mona Lisa of the North.” The painting was the inspiration for a 1999 novel titled Girl With a Pearl Earring, written by Tracy Chevalier, which was later adapted into a stage play in 2008, as well as the 2004 acclaimed film of the same title.


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