Thanks to Peter Webber's movie "Girl with a Pearl Earring" many people have learned about the wonderful Dutch painter Jan Vermeer and about his most famous painting.
This film is based on the book by Tracy Chevalier, in which the writer gives quite a free interpretation of the creation of the painting. And, of course, many of those who have seen the film are sure about the truthfulness of this version.
The picture "Girl with a Pearl Earring" was painted around 1665. Nowadays it is kept in Mauritshuis Museum in Hague, the Netherlands, and is the trademark of the museum. The picture that has been also called Dutch Mona Lisa, or Mona Lisa of the North, is painted in Tronie style (Tronie means "face", "head" in Dutch). This style is a kind of portrait. It was popular in Holland in the 17th century. Models were anonymous, wearing an unusual dress or with an unusual facial expression.
Thus, Vermeer's model is unknown. There are several suggestions concerning who this might be. According to one of them, the model could be Vermeer's daughter, Maria. In 1665 she was about 13 years old. Another version states that it was the daughter of Vermeer's patron Ruijven who posed. She was Maria's peer.
The third version, described in the novel, states that we can see servant Griet who was also Vermeer's mistress. Her name supposedly means "pearl". However, the full name "Girl with a Pearl Earring" was given to the painting in the 20th century. It was earlier named "Girl in a turban", or simply "Girl". That's why this version may be considered a beautiful story, far from the truth. Besides, according to many facts, the marriage of Jan Vermeer was a happy one. His wife, unlike the one who was shown in the novel or film, was very beautiful. She posed for many of Vermeer's paintings. They had 15 children which was a big number for Holland of the 17th century where contraception was already discovered.
About the painting
The pose of the girl is viewed from the back, in the movement. We observe her from one side, and she turns her head towards us as if she wants to hide her eyes. At the same time, her mouth is slightly open which in the Dutch painting often means an appeal.
Picture's elements: the turban
In Europe, they started to use some elements of the Turkish clothing style in the 15th century. Vermeer, too, often used these elements. So, "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is one of these pictures. However, in Vermeer's painting the shape of the turban is quite interesting. It consists of two parts: the first part is the tissue that is rolled around the girl's head in a very tight way, thus outlining the shape of the head. The second part is the fluid cloth that drops down like some kind of veil creating the visual effect of the turn.
The dress and the white collar
The girl is wearing a rough yellow dress, the color of which is more ground-like. The yellow color is symbolic in many Vermeer's paintings. The white collar makes a strong contrast with this background. It is painted in a bold way, with a pure color. However, the color does not look the same way as when it was painted. With time the white lead has changed its color.
The pearl earring attracts our attention. It's big, drop-like, glittering. This glitter is also present on the girl's lips and in her eyes. Could the pearl be original? There is no knowing. But the size of the pearl seems too big. It could be exaggerated by the painter's fantasy or it could be artificial from the very start. By the way, the same earring is present in nine of Vermeer's paintings.
Nowadays the picture's background looks almost black. Originally, it was done with dark greenish shade. Vermeer managed to give this effect to the painting by at first making the background black, and then covering it with yellow and indigo colors. But with time indigo grew very dark and now we cannot see this special effect anymore.
The author succeeded in showing a subtle relation between the model and the painter. This relation is transmitted by the turn of the girl's head while her body is facing an opposite direction. This way, some tension is created, but in case of Vermeer, this tension is calm and flexible.
Many years have passed since the moment of creation of the painting but the questions about it remain. Who is the model? Why is she wearing a turban and a dress unusual for the fashion of those days? What does the pearl symbolize? These questions will stay. And each of us will find the answers by contemplating this painting, always different.