Updated: Feb 17, 2022
The Dutch golden age was a period of artistic prosperity in the Netherlands and it was inspired by the Northern Renaissance painting techniques which lead to the production of the masterpiece; Girl with a Pearl Earring, painted by Johannes Vermeer. Vermeer is renowned for his depictions of the daily contemporary life interpretations and mainly for his representation of the domestic interiors and portraits of women, like the figure in the ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’.
Painted in around 1665, it is one of the 35 paintings painted by the painter who never became very famous. This is his most famous and widely acclaimed piece; however, it did not gain acclaim until after it was completed and that happened when it was featured in a special exhibition ‘Johannes Vermeer’ at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C at the end of the 20th century.
The painting portrays a young woman sitting in front of a dark backdrop which is a great contrast to the fair skin and translucent eyes of the maiden in the painting which is fixed on its viewers. She is wearing a blue and yellow turban and is wearing a large, tear-shaped pearl earring.
“Vermeer somehow manages to disappear when you look at a work like Girl with a Pearl Earring, and what is left are her extraordinary eyes, turned directly to meet your gaze across time”, as written by critic Michael Kimmelman wrote in his exhibition review, “Timeless Contemplation of the Ordinary” in 1995. This painting is also called the ‘Mona Lisa of the North’ and similar to the Mona Lisa, this Dutch masterpiece is also shrouded in mystery and we are here to remove that shroud of mystery with a few fun facts!
1. It is a Tronie
It looks like a normal portrait from the surface but when we research a bit about it and see the characteristics of the painting closely, we see that it is actually a ‘tronie’; A painting intended to study and artists often depict these figures in ‘exotic’ garments, which helps them to show off their advanced painting techniques.
This painting is a true tronie because it does not depict a specific person, rather it shows an anonymous girl in exotic clothing who is “like a vision emanating from the darkness,” explained art historians Arthur K. Wheelock and Ben Broos in the Johannes Vermeer catalogue, “belongs to no specific time or place.”
2. No one really knows who the girl is for sure
According to scholars, this painting was completed in 1665 and according to journalists Jean-Louis Vaudoyer and Lawrence Weschler proposed that the girl in the painting could be the oldest of Vermeer’s 10 children; Maria. Another speculation says that the girl could be a model in the Art of Painting and Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace, who she truly is, is still a realm of speculation!
3. Girl with a Pearl Earring is not its only name
This painting is also called "Girl in a Turban", "Head of a Girl in a Turban", "The Young Girl with Turban", or the "Head of a Young Girl". As mentioned before, it was also called ‘Mona Lisa of the North’ partially due to her curious expressions and due to the mystery surrounding the piece in itself.