P = Pearl or No Pearl that’s the question

Girl with a Turban

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

The Girl with a Pearl Earring was originally titled Girl with a Turban and it wasn’t until the second half of the twentieth century that the name was changed. Regarded as Vermeer’s masterpiece, this canvas is often referred to as the Mona Lisa of the North or the Dutch Mona Lisa. The girl in this painting is believed to be Vermeer’s eldest daughter, Maria, who was about twelve or thirteen-years-old at the time it was created. Her facial features appear in several of Vermeer’s works but his various techniques on his subject make it difficult to compare the female faces in his paintings, as the woman are portrayed in different lighting conditions and poses.With this painting the viewer is captured by the subject and believes they have caught her attention and caused her to turn her head. This is a sensual painting with the girl gazing at the viewer with wide eyes and a parted mouth and there is an air of mystery surrounding her identity.

There is very little information about  the Girl with a Pearl Earring. It’s signed “IVMeer” but there is no date on this work. It remains unknown whether or not this canvas was commissioned and if so, by whom.

Pearl or No Pearl, that’s the question

In the painting Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer girl bears no pearl. A large part of the doubt, is caused by reflections which are visible in the jewel in the ear. An actual bead consists of thin layers of calcite which scatter light of different wavelengths and break, said Vincent Icke, professor of theoretical astronomy at Leiden University. This creates the famous soft white, pearly sheen. Instead, we see a bright reflection of light in the top left corner of the ‘pearl’ and at the bottom to see a reflection of the white collar. In addition, the dark parts of the jewellery give no white dusk, but they seem to the girl’s skin and the space to mirror behind her.
If you look closely, can not but conclude that the girl with the pearl not wearing pearl. But what then? Icke thinks himself to silver or maybe polished pewter. He adds quickly that this discovery, however, doesn’t make the painting any less beautiful. “The details in the brilliance of the gem that is not a pearl, are a testimony to the great realism which Johannes Vermeer in the list of great Dutch masters state.”

Book and Film

My own copy of the Dutch book

Girl with a Pearl Earring is a 1999 historical novel written by Tracy Chevalier. Set in 17th century Delft, Holland, the novel was inspired by the painting Girl with a Pearl Earring. Chevalier writes a fictional account of Vermeer, the model, and the painting. The novel was adapted into a 2003 film of the same name and a 2008 play of the same name.
The book and film contributed much to the reputation of this painting.



14 thoughts on “P = Pearl or No Pearl that’s the question

  1. There are not many artists that painted like Mr. Vermeer in those days, so yes, it's really fascinating and unique, I quite agree.

    Thank you for your comment, Lissa,


  2. That's the spirit, Appy. It doesn't matter if it's valuable or not, it doesn't matter if the whole world thinks it's not what it seems like, if I like it it's good enough for me!

    Wonderful attitude,


  3. This book was my introduction to Vermeer, or at least a more in-depth introduction. I found it fascinating and his work so beautifully rendered. Dreamy.


  4. Do saw movie and I can say: I was scary by how hard life were then.
    I understand , folk died young .

    This is a beautiful painting . One I want see .thank you, Han, for interesting post..again.

    Mona Lisa


  5. It's a nice book, but it's all fiction. Remember I told you with the B from Catherina Bolnes, that the writer made Vermeers wife into something she probably wasn't?
    The book, and the movie, however, became quite famous,

    Thank you for your kind words, girl with the naughty name,



  6. Wow Han…I didn't know that this painting had it's name changed. After reading the explanation regarding the pearl, I have to wonder if Icke is correct and this earring is not a pearl. I've always thought it was awfully large for a pearl.

    Hugs and blessings…Cat


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