Who Was Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring?

Who Was Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring?

Who was she? The graceful, young woman in an exotic dress and a very large pearl earring has caughtthe eyes of many … but till date, we aren’t exactly certain on who Vermeer portrayed her to be. Residing in the Mauritshuis Museum in the Hague, the intimate setting of the painting draws the viewers attention exclusively on her.

Unlike many of Vermeer’s subjects, she is not concentrating on a daily chore and unaware of her viewer. Instead, captured in a fleeting moment, she turns her head over her shoulder, meeting the viewers gaze with her eyes wide and her lips parted- almost as if she’s about to speak. Thanks to this, her enigmatic
expression and the mystery of her identity has led many, including us to wonder who she really was.

Several authors, ranging from Marcel Proust’s friend the journalist Jean-Louis Vaudoyer to New Yorker writer Lawrence Weschler, have suggested she might be Vermeer’s eldest daughter, Maria. But  ofcourse, how can we conclude? In the wake of this denial, Tracy Chevalier’s novel Girl With a Pearl
Earring provided an alternative, fictional answer: She was the family maid’s assistant, Griet (played by Scarlett Johansson in the film), who then became Vermeer’s love interest. Hmmm….. interesting.

But the evidence from the Frick Museum study, the museum that attracts unpresented crowds for this masterpiece, suggests Vermeer’s daughter Maria was his likely model and a crucial part of his art. It was also found that Maria Vermeer was also a gifted artist who painted roughly one-fifth of the works
currently assigned to her father. Confused yet, or better intrigued? Haha, keep reading!

Girl with Guitar by Vermeer

As we may, or (may not) know, Vermeer was the greatest of the Dutch genre painters, who took their subject matter from everyday life. But Vermeer did not simply “record” the world around him; rather, he carefully crafted poetic constructions based on what he observed, which makes his artwork so much more mysterious. The more closely he relied on the life around him, the more compelling was his art.

Vermeer was instead a pioneer of the modern paradigm of art as expressing the artist’s unique circumstances, experiences, and sensibilities, a paradigm first articulated in texts from the Romantic period. The same period witnessed the founding of the modern discipline of art history, which began to gather individual artists’ oeuvres, relevant facts about their lives, and diverse interpretations of their works, and first “discovered” Vermeer as an unrecognized genius – and this, is something we cannot deny.

Girl Writing by Vermeer

Now… this is where it starts to get intense. In his Art of Painting, Young Woman With a Pearl Necklace, and Girl With a Pearl Earring, scholars recognized the same delicate young model who resembles Vermeer’s wife in earlier works. Maria was born around 1654 and would have been 13, 15, and 16 if the paintings in question are dated 1667, 1669, and 1670, respectively. But.. hold up. The plainer model in Vermeer’s Girl Writing, Girl With a Guitar, and Lacemaker, who resembles Vermeer in his dated self-portraits, would have been his second daughter, Lijsbeth?! Amazed, aren’t we? 

Girl with a Red Hat by Vermeer

Most fascinatingly, two of the misfit paintings, Girl With a Flute and Girl With a Red Hat, have been associated with or even identified as self-portraits, and together with a third, Girl Interrupted, also in the Frick – and what captivates us the most is that all of these 3 appear to portray the same model as Girl With a Pearl Earring. Challenging enough, the Frick paintings cannot travel, and the present exhibition offers the only possibility of comparing the originals in close proximity. Did Maria portray herself in these works? If so, despite her technical challenges, she surpassed her father in psychological intimacy. 

These masterpieces, further mirror and thereby transforms our experience and thoughts of her father’s earlier Girl With a Pearl Earring as not just a pretty face or even an image of Vermeer’s daughter, but a portrait—another portrait—of the artist as a young woman!

Girl Interrupted by Vermeer

Despite all these conclusions drawn, no one has previously sought to identify the models in these paintings in a systematic way, account for these misfit paintings, or explain Vermeer’s painting-by- painting development. These factors are indeed linked in the ongoing process of understanding Vermeer’s work, including Girl With a Pearl Earring and might ultimately lead to the discovery of another unrecognized genius, and we are all for it to find out! 

If you are as enchanted as we are, and still want to keep finding more about the amazing work of this artist, we have you covered. While painting your very own Girl with the Pearl Earring, thanks to the We Love Artbox which is literally a paint by numbers kit for adults, you will be exported into Vermeer’s world of thoughts when he created this stunning piece. Vermeer’s model choices and the reason behind them can definitely leave us overwhelmed, but with an easy canvas painting for beginners, you can create your own Girl With the pearl earring, and give it meaning centered on the woman that inspires you in your life. Try it out today.

Paint your own “Girl with the Pearl Earring“.

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