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Johannes Vermeer: Girl with a Pearl Earring Essay

Johannes Vermeer’s, “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was painted in 1665-66. It is oil on canvas painting of an ordinary girl that is turned sideways and appears that she is glancing over her left shoulder. Not too much is known about the girl, but there are speculations that it could be one of three people. Some think it is his daughter Maria; while others are torn between the daughter of Vermeer’s benefactor, Magdalena and a maiden he hired to help with his masterpieces. The servant girl speculation was derived from a novel that was written by Tracy Chevalier and a film starring Scarlet Johansson, which was depicting a more romanticized theory of the story behind the “Girl with the Pearl Earring”. Personally speaking, I think it is a toss-up between his daughter or a servant girl like the movie depicts… One reason for my belief of the servant girl mentality is because of the significance of the pearl itself. Not only is it a piece of jewelry but it symbolizes the virginity of the protagonist.

The fact that Vermeer put so much emphasis on the earring could signify the he was emphasizing an expectant virgin. Her eccentric attire with a pale, muddy brown turban, which was not a regular custom for that period, eludes me to feel that it could be his daughter. Why? Well simply because the dress and the rest of the attire were considered “special garments” that were worn and loved by children during that time. Vermeer Also known as “The Mona Lisa of the North” or the “Dutch Mona Lisa” this figurative theme has been intriguing spectators from around the world for many, many years. The highlighting of the earring and the light illuminating the girls face is one of the strengths of this painting. This naturalistic style creates a realistic view. Dark space (background) surrounding the woman creates depth and makes the other colors in the paining more vivid.

The intensity of the white, teardrop shape of the earring is the emphasis of the painting. Folds and shadows on her garment give heaviness and texture to the fabric. There is contrast between the brightness of her white blouse meeting up with the tone of the yellow fabric. The shadows from the light and the dark background help to bring out the 3 dimensional form of the girl. The blue part of the turban, painted with ultramarine. Ultramarine is a highly expensive pigment made out of crushed semi-precious stone. These, along with the yellow hues complement one another and go along with the flesh tone of the face. The casting of the light creates a symmetrical balance.

Vermeer’s masterstroke with the collaboration of background light brings life to the entire color scheme. One of Vermeer’s main characteristics, a speckled methodology of applying paint, is known as pointille. Pointillism is a method of painting with dots to achieve various affects. You can see the use of this technique in this painting. One of the best examples of this technique would be the corner of her mouth that is highlighted with light colored points. Overall, Johannes’ “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is a wonderful masterpiece that represents unequivocal expressions in a profound way. It inspired things like a bestselling novel, a successful movie, and a play; all with the same title.

Mauritshuis, The Royal Picture Gallery. Web. 5 Novemeber 2012


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