Girl With a Pearl Earring

Mona Lisa of the North

Who could have imagined that an unnamed girl painted by a relatively obscure artist would become so prevalent in popular culture? Created between 1665 and 1666 by Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring stands out as one of the most famous masterpieces ever crafted. The Girl’s simple yet intimate expression, combined with Vermeer’s undeniable talent, has propelled her into the realms of books, plays, and even a Hollywood movie. All of these interpretations share a common goal: to unravel the identity, story, and allure that make her so captivating.

Johannes Vermeer, Girl With a Pearl Earring, c.1665

Johannes Vermeer, Girl With a Pearl Earring, c.1665. Oil on canvas, 17.5 in × 15 in (44.5 cm × 39 cm). Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Despite countless speculations and theories (was she Vermeer’s daughter or possibly his mistress?), we will likely never uncover the true identity of the Girl—if there even was a specific model. Likewise, we have limited knowledge about Vermeer himself.

He spent his entire life in the Dutch town of Delft and left behind a small number of works – only about 36 paintings. He married a Catholic woman, possibly converting to Catholicism himself. Vermeer resided at his mother-in-law’s house and had 11 children. He faced financial difficulties at various times and worked as both an artist and an art dealer. And that’s about all we know about his life beyond his artworks.

Detail of the painting The Procuress (c. 1656), believed to be a self-portrait by Vermeer

Detail of the painting The Procuress (c. 1656), believed to be a self-portrait by Vermeer

Being a master of capturing light, Vermeer mostly painted women within minimalist domestic interiors. With no students to carry on his workshop and preserve his artistic legacy, his works were largely forgotten after his death. It was not until the 19th century that he gained recognition and appreciation.

Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, c. 1658

Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, c. 1658. Oil on canvas, 17.9 in × 16.1 in (45.5 cm × 41 cm). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Girl With a Pearl Earring, often hailed as the “Mona Lisa of the North,” exemplifies Vermeer’s extraordinary mastery of colors and reflections. The interplay of hues between the earring, lips, and mesmerizing eyes of the young woman seamlessly blends with the soft blue and yellow tones of her hairband. On closer examination, one can discern that the renowned earring is brought to life by just two delicate strokes of Vermeer’s brush.

Girl With a Pearl Earring, detail

Girl With a Pearl Earring, detail

Girl With a Pearl Earring embodies beauty in its simplest form. Similar to the Mona Lisa, this portrait captivates viewers for reasons not easily defined. In both cases, the models have come to symbolize an ideal of beauty that transcends conventional standards.

Interestingly, the painting was lost for two centuries. Then, a collector bought it for a mere 2 guilders (less than $1) and only realized it was a Vermeer after it had been cleaned. When the collector passed away in 1902, the painting was generously donated to the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, where it has remained on display ever since. Nowadays, it holds immeasurable value, and Mauritshuis would never even consider selling it. In fact, the last publicly sold Vermeer painting, back in 2004, fetched a staggering $30 million.

Banksy, The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum, 2014

Banksy, The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum, 2014. Street art mural in Bristol.

Nowadays, Girl with a Pearl Earring continues to be endlessly reused. She has even been incorporated by Banksy in his artwork Girl with a Pierced Ear Drum, where her iconic earring is replaced by an alarm system.

Words of Wisdom

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” —Confucius

“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” —Thomas Jefferson

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” ―Kurt Vonnegut

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” —Maya Angelou

Bibliography

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