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

10 Facts About Ansel Adams

Famed photographer Ansel Adams drained the color from life to great effect. His black-and-white photographs of famous landscapes like Yosemite National Park have been seen by millions, reproduced on calendars and posters, and recognized by presidents as being crucial to conservation efforts. If you’re curious to learn more about Adams (who was born on this day in 1902), take a look at some of these lesser-known facts about both his life and his life’s work.

1. An earthquake broke his nose.

Born in San Francisco to Charles and Olive Adams on February 20, 1902, Ansel was just 4 years old when San Francisco was struck by the great earthquake of 1906. During an aftershock, he lost his balance and fell face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. The damage was so severe that it would become a remarkable feature of Ansel’s face. Between his nose—which caused him a lot of problems socially—and a disdain for the formalized education he was receiving, Adams eventually elected to be tutored at home by his father and aunt before he got a “legitimizing diploma” and graduated with an approximately eighth grade education.

2. He originally wanted to be a concert pianist.

Adams was a solitary kid, studying at home and wandering trails by himself. He began practicing the piano at the age of 12, and by 18, he decided he would make it a profession and began a path to becoming a concert pianist. Throughout the 1920s, however, Adams’s frequent visits to the Sierra Nevada region stirred an interest in photography. After contributing images to the Sierra Club newsletter and opening a one-man exhibition in 1928, he decided, in 1930, to make photography his full-time career.

3. A granite summit made him famous.

As he became more interested in photographic pursuits, Adams got assistance from Albert Bender, an art patron in San Francisco who told Adams that he would help him circulate a portfolio of his work. One of the last images needed to complete the sampler was of the Half Dome, a sheer granite summit in Yosemite that extends 5000 feet above the valley. In April 1927, Adams climbed to a rock cliff known as the Diving Board and managed to get the shot he wanted. The image, Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, became one of his best-known works.

4. His work appeared on a coffee can.

Adams often agreed to commercial work in order to subsidize his more creative pursuits, trying to strike a balance between paying bills and garnering satisfaction from his environmental awareness ambitions. In 1969, the Hill Brothers Coffee Company licensed Winter Morning, Yosemite Valley for their 3-pound coffee tins. The containers can bring up to $1500 when they come up for auction.

5. He didn't shy away from critiques of World War II.

Portrait of internee Tom Kobayashi at Manzanar War Relocation Center, Owens Valley, California, 1943
Portrait of internee Tom Kobayashi at Manzanar War Relocation Center, Owens Valley, California, 1943

Though Adams is best known for his nature photography, the outbreak of World War II drew his eye to an entirely different topic. He photographed the interment camp at Manzanar, one of many such sites that detained Japanese-Americans, depicting their prejudiced treatment at the hands of the U.S. government while being forced to exist in war relocation centers. Adams donated the collection, which included more than 200 photographs, to the Library of Congress in 1965, writing that “The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment ... All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use.”

6. He was presented with the Medal of Freedom.

Collectively, Adams’s art was a giant portrait of conservation efforts intended to reveal the beauty of national landmarks and the value in preserving them for future generations. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to civilians, to acknowledge his efforts on behalf of environmental causes. Carter dubbed Adams a “national institution.”

7. HE "mutilated" some of his own negatives.

In order to stir up interest for his Portfolio VI book collection in 1974, Adams purposely limited the number of copies available by advertising that no more reproductions could ever be struck from the original negatives—he had run them across a check canceling device, destroying them. Adams later regretted the decision, writing in his autobiography that “negatives should never be intentionally destroyed.”

8. He had problems with a couple of presidents.

Adams’s political views on environmental conservation were embedded in the fabric of his identity. When politicians didn’t agree, he had no problem butting heads. Adams refused to take a presidential portrait of Richard Nixon due to Nixon's reluctance to support public lands. After meeting Ronald Reagan in 1983, Adams expressed disinterest in any further communication, telling The Washington Post that the president had no “fundamental interest or knowledge in the environment.” An earlier exchange with Playboy was more cutting: “I hate Reagan,” Adams said.

9. He didn't see any financial rewards until late in life.

“Professional nature photographer” was not considered a lucrative vocation when Adams was devoted to his craft. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when an associate advised him to stop selling prints and focus on his book collections, that Adams became financially solvent.

10. He had too many photos to print.

When Adams died in 1984, curators of his extensive 40,000-plus photo archives marveled at the fact that the photographer never found time to print many images they considered to be masterpieces. Thousands of portraits and color photos were tucked in shoeboxes, with some later appearing in collections of his work. Adams, a perfectionist, insisted on developing and exposing prints himself. He had taken so many photos that there simply had not been enough hours in the day to process them all.

Bob Dylan's Lyrics, Poetry, and Prose Showcased at Chicago's American Writers Museum

A collection of Bob Dylan poems that was auctioned off by Christie's in 2005.
A collection of Bob Dylan poems that was auctioned off by Christie's in 2005.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Like a Rolling Stone, Tangled Up in Blue, Blowin’ in the Wind, and The Times They Are a-Changin’ are among Bob Dylan’s best songs, but the 77-year-old singer’s writing isn’t limited to lyrics. Dylan has also penned poems, prose, an autobiography, and a nearly four-hour movie (that got terrible reviews).

An ongoing showcase at Chicago’s American Writers Museum is paying homage to Dylan the writer. The "Bob Dylan: Electric" exhibit, which will remain on view though April 30, 2019, highlights dozens of items from Dylan’s expansive career.

“The world knows Bob Dylan as a prolific songwriter,” museum president Carey Cranston said in a statement. “'Bob Dylan: Electric’ gives the public a chance to see how his writing shaped more than just American music, but American literature as a whole.”

The period covers Dylan’s “electric” career, beginning with the time he made his electric guitar debut at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The exact instrument he played at the festival—a 1964 sunburst Fender Stratocaster—is naturally one of the items on display.

Visitors can also check out Dylan’s personal copy of The Catcher in the Rye, which he read in the summer of 1961. He jotted down notes and drew doodles in the back of the book, including a bottle of rye and the words “good book.” (Interestingly enough, a talent agent approached Dylan the following year and asked if he’d play Holden Caulfield in a movie adaptation of the book. For better or worse, that never came to fruition.)

Dylan’s writing was recognized with a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. At the time, the committee's decision to award a songwriter rather than a novelist was a controversial one. The New York Times dubbed it a “disappointing choice,” while Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh (author of Trainspotting) was a little more blunt, calling it “an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”

Nonetheless, Dylan accepted the award, eventually releasing a video detailing his literary influences. Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey are just a few of the singer-songwriter’s many inspirations.

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