Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer (1665)

Vermeer has often been described as a painter who did not paint much. This is to say, his works were always of rather banal subjects or simple scenes. However they remain some of the most enigmatic and championed works of art in the world. For centuries, Vermeer has fixated his audience to his canvases through his unparalleled mastery of light, which he uses to create space, objects, and subjects. Here we look at his finest example of his ‘camera obscura’ – Girl with a Pearl Earring.

The Girl with a Pearl Earring is a painting of immense simplicity. In terms of both composition and colour, this work of art displays nothing extraordinary. However, it is through this simplicity that Vermeer allows us to examine the wonderful delicacy of his subject. We can appreciate the smallest details of the painting, from the wet edges of the girl’s half-opened lips to how her skin appears alight against the dark background  – features which in a more chaotic composition would be missed. With every new detail you notice, the Girl with a Pearl Earring is enlivened more and more. For instance, her head is turned as if she has just looked round and seen us (rather than that she is being painted side on). By permitting us to appreciate these small details, Vermeer creates an intimacy and an immediacy in the Girl with a Pearl Earring.

This intimacy is further created by that look in the eyes of the girl. Her eyes are opened wide, they appear almost glossy.. She does not look at her viewer with judgment, but nor are her eyes filled with questions. Yet, that is not to say that her gentle glare is vacuous. Rather, it is entirely trusting. This is one of the many reasons as to why the Girl with a Pearl Earring feels so intimate – there is no look so compelling as when one looks at you with trust in their eyes. The viewer perceives this look, and the incredible innocence in the girls face, and feels compelled to protect her, or at the very least understand her.  This look of trust is unsurprising when one considers that the girl herself could be one of Vermeer’s daughters (indeed one can see a facial resemblance between this girl, and Vermeer’s daughter depicted in The Allegory of Painting).

However, her exact identity does not matter in the slightest. When one is fortunate enough to gaze upon the Girl with a Pearl Earring, one gets a glimpse into eternity. Her stare, her smile, and her lips all share the same spark as her pearl. This spark of light pierces through us, shining out of the darkness. These factors make this painting, from a personal point of view of course, the most beautiful portrait ever painted. No other painting can equal the immediate and incomprehensible adhesion to her beauty and subtle sensuality that one experiences when looking at this Vermeer.

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8 thoughts on “Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer (1665)

  1. Very precise and insightful review of Vermeer’s famous painting! I first connected with Vermeer through the eyes of his “Girl With a Pearl Earring”. It’s fascinating how Vermeer so masterfully blew life into his paintings, drawing the viewer ever so delicately, that we are often enraptured without being aware of the mystical event taking place within us. Awesome job with your review! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

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  2. Beautifully written comments, I had never noticed how her lips and eyes looked wet before, possibly because of the tiny cracks that made it look desert-like. I have one question though: not to discredit your comments and even though you said it was from your personal opinion, but what makes this portrait more beautiful than, say, the more critically acclaimed Mona Lisa?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks very much Jonathan. For me, this Vermeer stands above work like the Mona Lisa in terms of beauty due to its simplicity. The Mona Lisa is a puzzle – it has a beautiful but enigmatic subject, and a beautiful but highly complex background. This background, although hugely interesting with its various symbols, distracts from the subject herself. In Vermeer on the other hand, the girl consumes are full attention. The simplicity of the painting allows us to really see her, for example, how the light falls across her face or how her earring shines. Rather than being a puzzle, the Girl with the Pearl Earring hides nothing. Ultimately, it really depends on how one chooses to define and perceive ‘beauty’ – no interpretation is invalid in this respect. 🙂

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  3. Pingback: First Night Design | The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer | First Night Design

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