Girl with a Pearl Earring, Jan Vermeer
When we think of Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring is the first thing that usually comes to mind. Johannes Vermeer, the famous 17th-century Dutch painter, created the iconic Girl with the Pearl Earring painting. Vermeer typically depicted scenes of the ordinary domestic life of the time, giving us a detailed glimpse into his world. More than simply just perfecting his painting technique, Vermeer was also a master of understanding light.
When we look at the Girl with a Pearl Earring painting compared to other portraits of the 1600s, it is quickly evident that this style of portraiture strays from the convention. Instead of facing the viewer head-on, the girl, who was never identified, almost longingly glances over her shoulder. The pearl has always been a mystery to art historians who have analyzed the Girl with a Pearl Earring painting. The girl’s drab clothes suggest that she was of a lower class, which directly clashes with the wealth and status suggested by such a large pearl earring. Beyond this, the vividly-colored headdress would have been quite unlikely for Dutch girls in the 1600s, who modestly covered their heads with white linen caps or kerchiefs. Rather, in the Girl with a Pearl Earring Vermeer used the yellow and blue turban as a prop to introduce a hint of the exotic into the painting.
In his understanding of light, Vermeer was far beyond his contemporaries. From the subtle gradation of light falling across the face to the thoughtful execution of the pearl’s reflected light across the jaw, in this piece, Vermeer achieves perfection. A major part of the beauty in the Girl with the Pearl Earring painting is the pearl itself. Vermeer placed it at a key point that immediately draws the viewer’s eye to it. The pearl is nestled in an otherwise dark area to truly bring the image to life. Without it, the Girl with the Pearl Earring painting would immediately lack the vivacity and allure that has made it so famous.
The other significant aspect of Vermeer’s style was in his paints and layering techniques. His use of lead-tin yellow and the extravagantly expensive ultramarine were his signature colors. In the Girl with a Pearl Earring Vermeer once again picks these two colors to create radiant hues. Since Vermeer understood how light subtly changed shades of color, he normally created an initial blue layer of color to his works. Gradually, more color would be added on top of this. For Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring was a perfect chance to show off this technique. By underpainting, he managed to create more realistic skin tones, as well as accurate differences in the folds of the cloth. Although he did not know it at the time, for Vermeer, this painting was to become a masterpiece and a testament to his unrivaled skill.