15 Lovely Facts About Girl With A Pearl Earring

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Despite a deceptively simple composition, Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring has captured the imaginations of art fans around the world. While little is certain about the girl behind the mesmerizing gaze, here's what we do know about this now-legendary work.

1. No one knows for sure who the girl is.

Scholars estimate the painting was completed in 1665. The painting is an example of a type of work called a tronie. Popular in the Dutch Golden Age, tronies were paintings that focused on the face of a subject with an added element of fantasy or an exaggeration of expression that differentiates them from portraits.

2. Speculation on her identity led to a novel, movie, and stage production.

All titled Girl with a Pearl Earring, these works began with American novelist Tracy Chevalier, whose 1999 historical novel spun a love story between Vermeer and a servant girl turned muse. In 2004, Chevalier's book was adapted into an acclaimed feature film, starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. Then in 2008, a stage adaptation was produced in London.

Though the story is compelling, it may not have been grounded in historical fact. Historian J.M. Montias suggested that a household servant modeled for Vermeer’s Milkmaid, but not this particular masterpiece.

3. The girl may be Vermeer's daughter.

Journalists Jean-Louis Vaudoyer and Lawrence Weschler have proposed that the lovely girl who sat for Vermeer was in fact the eldest of his 10 children, Maria. She might also be the model in Art of Painting and Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace.

4. The girl in the painting may be an artist in her own right.

In 2014, Benjamin Binstock, a specialist on Renaissance and Baroque art, declared that Maria may have been more than just Girl with a Pearl Earring's model—she might also have been the artist who created one fifth of the works attributed to her father. These "misfit" Vermeers that might be Maria's include Mistress and Maid, Girl With a Red Hat, and Woman with a Lute. Notably, each includes a model wearing a familiar earring.

5. Girl with a Pearl Earring isn't its only name.

The painting has alternately been called Girl In A Turban, Head Of Girl In A Turban, The Young Girl With Turban, and Head of a Young Girl.

6. The painting also has a nickname.

Often Girl with a Pearl Earring is referred to as the "Mona Lisa of the North." This is partially because of the girl's curious expression, and in part because of the mystery surrounding the piece itself.

7. The uncertainty of her story is a key to its allure.

When Girl with a Pearl Earring toured the U.S. in 2013, the painting drew a massive turnout at each of its stops. Assistant curator of San Francisco’s de Young museum told The Wall Street Journal, "Sometimes the questions are more intriguing because they can't be answered. Who was she? What was she thinking? What was her relationship with Vermeer? The mystery is part of its popularity."

8. Her earring might have religious overtones.

Some scholars have theorized that Girl with a Pearl Earring may be a portrait of chastity, making a connection between the painting and the teachings of early 17th century bishop St. Francis De Sales, who wrote, "Both now and in the past it has been customary for women to hang pearls from their ears; as Pliny observed, they gain pleasure from the sensation of the swinging pearls touching them. But I know that God's friend, Isaac, sent earrings to chaste Rebecca as a first token of his love. This leads me to think that this jewel has a spiritual meaning, namely that the first part of the body that a man wants, and which a woman must loyally protect, is the ear; no word or sound should enter it other than the sweet sound of chaste words, which are the oriental pearls of the gospel."

9. Vermeer likely used the same earring for another of his paintings.

A similar teardrop pearl can be spotted in A Woman Brought A Letter By A Maid. Vermeer often reused props, models, and settings in his works.

10. It probably wasn’t a real pearl.

In December of 2014, Vincent Icke, a professor of Theoretical Astronomy, wrote in New Scientist that the light reflecting off the earring in Girl with a Pearl Earring wouldn't match that of an actual pearl.

The size of the pearl also makes it suspect. Curators Quentin Buvelot and Ariane van Suchtelen explained, "Large pearls were rare and ended up in the hands of the richest people on the planet. In the seventeenth century, cheaper glass pearls, usually from Venice, were also quite common. They were made from glass, which was lacquered to give it a matte finish. Maybe the girl is wearing such a handcrafted 'pearl'."

11. Its black background was once a glossy green.

Modern restorations of the painting found trace amounts of indigo and weld, a glaze mixture that would have made the dark underpainting glisten. Over the centuries, pigments in the glaze have broken down to change the painting’s color.

12. The paint used for the turban was incredibly expensive.

Made from a crushed deep blue semi-precious stone called lapis lazuli, the ultramarine paint Vermeer used on the turban was one only a few of his contemporaries dared employ. Despite ultramarine's high price tag, Vermeer notably used the color even in times of financial hardship, possibly thanks to funding from his generous patron Pieter van Ruijven.

13. Vermeer may have used mechanical means to create this painting and many more.

The Dutch master's distinctive style avoids hard lines, relying on shades of light and shadow alone. Art historians have long debated whether mechanical means may have helped Vermeer render light in this way. A camera obscura is the most popular theory, and the 2013 documentary Tim's Vermeer followed an experiment that seemed to prove that Vermeer's method included a careful arrangement of mirrors to guide his hand in painting.

14. This priceless painting sold for next to nothing.

More than two hundred years passed between the painting's creation and its sale at auction in 1881. There, Dutch Army officer and art collector Arnoldus Andries des Tombe purchased Girl with a Pearl Earring for just 2 guilders with a 30-cent premium. Upon des Tombe's death in the winter of 1902, the work was willed to The Hague's art museum the Mauritshuis, where it can still be seen today.

15. Girl with a Pearl Earring will never leave home again.

In recent years, The Mauritshuis loaned Girl with a Pearl Earring to Japan, Italy and the United States for exhibitions. But once this tour concluded in July of 2014, the museum announced the painting would stay in their collection within their walls indefinitely. And so Girl with a Pearl Earring joined the ranks of Botticelli's Birth of Venus, Picasso's Guernica, and Les Demoiselles d'Avignon as works sworn to stay safe in their home museums for all time.

Art

Wish You Could ‘Shazam’ a Piece of Art? With Magnus, You Can

Manuel-F-O/iStock via Getty Images
Manuel-F-O/iStock via Getty Images

While museum artworks are often accompanied by tidy little placards that tell you the basics—title, artist, year, medium, dimensions, etc.—that’s not always the standard for art galleries and fairs. For people who don’t love tracking down a staff member every time they’d like to know more about a particular work, there’s Magnus, a Shazam-like app that lets you snap a photo of an artwork and will then tell you the title, artist, last price, and more.

The New York Times reports that Magnus has a primarily crowdsourced database of more than 10 million art images. Though the idea of creating Shazam for art seems fairly straightforward, the execution has been relatively complex, partially because of the sheer quantity of art in the world. As founder Magnus Resch explained to The New York Times, “There is a lot more art in the world than there are songs.”

Structural diversity in art adds another challenge to the process: it’s difficult for image recognition technology to register 3D objects like sculptures, however famous they may be. Resch also has to dodge copyright violations; he maintains that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act applies to his app, since the photos are taken and shared by users, but he still has had to remove some content. All things considered, Magnus’s approximate match rate of 70 percent is pretty impressive.

Since the process of buying and selling art often includes negotiation and prices can fluctuate drastically, Magnus gives potential purchasers the background information they need to at least decide whether they’re interested in pursuing a particular piece. Just like browsing around a boutique where prices aren’t included on the items, a lack of transparency can be a deterrent for new customers.

Such was the case for Jelena Cohen, a Colgate-Palmolive brand manager who bought her first photograph with the help of Magnus. “I used to go to these art fairs, and I felt embarrassed or shy, because nothing’s listed,” she told The New York Times. “I loved that the app could scan a piece and give you the exact history of it, when it was last sold, and the price it was sold for. That helped me negotiate.” Through Magnus, you can also keep track of artworks you’ve scanned in your digital collection, search for artworks by artist, and share images to social media.

One thing Magnus can’t do, however, is tell you whether an artwork is authentic or not. The truth is that sometimes even art experts have trouble doing that, as evidenced by the long history of notorious art forgeries.

[h/t The New York Times]

'The Far Side' May Be Making a Comeback Online

tilo/iStock, Getty Images Plus
tilo/iStock, Getty Images Plus

For the first time ever, it’s looking increasingly likely that cartoonist Gary Larson’s "The Far Side" will be available in a medium other than book collections or page-a-day calendars. A (slightly ambiguous) announcement on the official "Far Side" website promises that “a new online era” for the strip is coming soon.

From 1980 to 1995, "The Far Side" presented a wonderfully irreverent universe in which hunters had much to fear from armed and verbose deer, cows possessed a rich internal life, scientific experiments often went awry, and irony became a central conceit. In one of the more famous strips frequently pasted to refrigerator doors, a small child could be seen pushing on a door marked “pull.” Above him was a sign marking the building as a school for the gifted. In another strip, a woman is depicted looking nervously around a forest while cradling a vacuum cleaner. The caption: “The woods were dark and foreboding, and Alice sensed that sinister eyes were watching her every step. Worst of all, she knew that Nature abhorred a vacuum.”

Unlike most of his contemporaries, like Berkeley Breathed ("Bloom County") and Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Larson has resisted reproduction of his work online. He famously circulated a letter to "Far Side" fan sites asking them to stop posting the single-panel strips, writing that the idea of his work being found on random websites was bothersome. “These cartoons are my ‘children,’ of sorts, and like a parent, I’m concerned about where they go at night without telling me,” he wrote.

Many obliged Larson, though the strip could still be found here and there. That he’s seemingly embracing a new method of distribution is good news for fans, but there’s no concrete evidence the now-retired cartoonist will be following in Breathed’s footsteps and producing new strips. ("Bloom County" returned as a Facebook comic in 2015.) The only indication of Larson’s active involvement is a new piece of art on the site’s landing page depicting some familiar "Far Side" characters being unthawed in a block of ice.

Larson’s comments on a return are few and far between. In 1998, he told The New York Times that going back to a strip was unlikely. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Never say never, but there’s a sense of ‘been there, done that.’” In that same profile, it was noted that 33 million "Far Side" books had been sold.

[h/t A.V. Club]

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