“Girl With a Pearl Earring,” the 1665 painting by Johannes Vermeer, probably ranks as the second most recognizable painting in the world, behind the “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci.
People like the “Mona Lisa,” but people love “Girl With a Pearl Earring.”
What makes this painting so magnetic, so inviting, so alluring?
No single answer or set of answers to that question suffices. But we keep looking.
The folks at the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery, The Hague, Holland, where the painting resides are taking a really close look these days. They have called in experts from around the world and marshaled all of the technology and machinery they can muster to look as closely — non-invasively — at the painting as they can.
The efforts of these folks are described in a recent article in the New York Times: Uncovering the Secrets of the ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ – The New York Times.
They’re not likely to come up with an answer to what makes the painting so magical, but they are trying to discover what techniques Vermeer used to bring that painting to life. Vermeer’s approach has always been a mystery to art critics and historians.
Little was known about the painting — even its exact location — for the first two hundred years of its life. In 1881, it was listed at an auction and was purchased by Arnoldus Andries des Tombe, a Dutch army officer and art collector who knew of Vermeer’s works and wanted to prevent them from leaving Holland. The price was less than $50. Des Tombe donated it to the Mauritshuis in 1902.
The painting remained in obscurity for most of the 20th century.
In 1999 author Tracy Chevalier published a historical novel with the title of the painting and with a fictional story of how the painting came about. The novel inspired a feature film in 2003 and a stage play in 2008.
Beginning in 2012, the painting was part of a two-year worldwide tour that had the painting on display in Italy, Japan, and the United States. Its fame grew, and its charm was multi-cultural.
And yet, in essence, it is still a mystery.
If you want to know more about Vermeer and the painting, here are a couple of places to look:
The videos series Exhibition on Screen is a multi-part, multi-season series on artworks and artists. It is available on Amazon here; if you’re a prime member it’s free. The first season has a show on Vermeer; the second season has a show devoted mostly to the Girl With the Pearl Earring.
Take a look, too, at Laura Snyder‘s Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoer, and the Reinvention of Seeing.