The Girl with a Pearl Earring has sparked several literary and creative interpretations, with considerable conjecture about the woman’s identity, the reasons for her unique attire, and the significance of the pearl earring. Whoever she is, she gazes out through the canvas, mouth slightly parted — an intimate and knowing expression.
The Painting’s Place in the Art World
Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675) died in poverty, and his paintings are seldom recognized outside of Delft. This held until the French avant-garde revived interest in this reclusive 17th-century painter, catapulting him into the spotlight and making his paintings some of the most iconic images in the art world today.
The Girl with a Pearl Earring, painted in 1665, 10 years before Vermeer’s sad demise, is one of his most well-known works. It is presently on display in The Hague’s Mauritshuis and it was chosen as the most beautiful artwork in the Netherlands in 2006. The painting is uncommon for Vermeer in that it just depicts a woman’s head and shoulders against a black backdrop (now believed to originally have been painted a green tone). Rather than a formal portrait, the artwork is a study of a female head.
Vermeer placed the pearl on the earring of this young lady in Girl with a Pearl Earring, who is staring straight out of the canvas, the yellow of her blouse softly contrasting with the blue of her turban. The pearl and her headdress indicate that this image contains something exotic. Turbans were fashionable fashion accessories at the period. Still, this young lady has a cosmopolitan sense to her, as if the more significant trends of the world had affected her and motivated her to seek experiences beyond the bounds of the frame she sits in. She seems innocent, modest, and yet worldly-wise and intellectual as if she is staring at the spectator with secrets to reveal, thoughts to communicate, and experiences to plan.
The Significance Of Pearls
It is also worth mentioning that some critics have questioned if the earring is indeed made of pearl, claiming that its size and brightness indicate that it is more likely to be made of tin. Other critics argue that it is an enormous pearl and contributes to the exoticism of the young woman’s clothes. Pearls are said to represent knowledge, purity, charity, and honesty.
Pearls have always been valued for their scarcity and inherent beauty in many civilizations. Wealthy individuals were buried with their pearls in ancient Egypt. It is also said that Cleopatra drank vinegar after dissolving a portion of her pearl in it. The Ancient Greeks thought pearls to be tears of the Greek gods. According to certain Christian legends, Eve’s tears after being expelled from Eden were transformed into pearls.