Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

The 17th century brought the period of the Dutch Golden Age for Netherlands, a time of great artistic prosperity. The artists of this era, although enlightened, found inspiration in the painting techniques of Northern Renaissance, giving birth to beautiful creations like the great art mystery, “The Girl With a Pearl Earring”, a brilliant masterpiece by Johannes Vermeer.

This painting is also popularly referred to as the “Mona Lisa of the North”, and is the best representation of the brilliance of Dutch art. Although a shroud of mystery surrounds ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring”, much like its counterpart of Leonardo da Vinci, the painting however is among the most beloveds of the art world.

The Masterpiece in Context

Johannes Vermeer, a Dutch artist, specialized in the genre painting. This is a form of art that uses everyday scenes of life as the subject for paintings. The Dutch artist was acclaimed for his contemporary depictions of Delft, the city where Johannes was born, lived and died, in Holland.

To be more precise, the artist is recognized for his portraits of women and domesticated interiors. Johannes painting, “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is the perfect example of his prime subjects.

Johannes Vermeer brought this painting to life in 1665. The artist experienced moderate success in his career life with just 35 paintings, out of which “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is one. This masterpiece along with “The Milkmaid” of another genre, are the most famous works of art by Johannes.  The paintings however did not attract fame until the end of the 20th century. The paintings achieved fame, especially “Girl with a Pearl Earring” when it featured in Johannes Vermeer’s special exhibition, in Washington D.C’s National Gallery of Art.

When Michael Kimmelman reviewed the exhibition, he wrote how the artist Vermeer just some disappeared one when looked at the work of “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. He described it as a timeless contemplation of the ordinary. What strikes a viewer the most is what remains of the extraordinary eyes of the girl in the painting, which gazes directly into your eyes, across time.

Girl with a Pearl Earring- Subject Matter

This painting portrays a girl’s figure seated against a dark backdrop. While this particular backdrop may seem inconsequential, the effect achieved is brilliant as it highlights the cream-colored skin of the girl figure and her translucent eyes, which gaze steadily into the viewer’s eyes. She dons an exquisite turban of yellow and blue and the most important accessory of the painting, a tear shaped pearl earring.

On surface level, the painting may seem like a portrait to you, but in actuality, it is a tronie. A tronie is a subject that was popular in the golden age of the Dutch. It is a painting form that focuses on an individual as the subject. For this art form, most artists preferred portraying the figures in exotic garments and the rendition of opulent fabrics exhibited their genius skills and advanced techniques of painting.

The “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is an authentic tronie. The painting does not focus on a specific person but rather shows an anonymous girl attired in opulent clothing. Art historians Ben Broos and Arthur K. Wheelock describe the girl as a vision emerging out of the darkness, belonging to no specific place or time.

Techniques Employed

This masterpiece showcases the advanced painting techniques, which were Vermeer’s genius. The most applaud worthy elements are the artist’s approach to brushwork, color and light.

Color

Vermeer reveals his love for colors through this painting. His illustrations bring out his appreciation for colors in this painting, especially the ultramarine blue. A special type of pigment is derived from lazurite to make this paint. Lazurite is a mineral that is found lapis lazuli, a semi precious stone.

This expensive hue was often incorporated into Vermeer’s paintings. The artist specially reserved it for portrayals of upholstery, curtains and the girl’s clothing in the “Girl With a Pearl Earring”. The color, while evidently seen in her turban’s band, is also subtly present in the yellow fabric’s shadows. This particular technique of color application shows Johannes’ almost unorthodox, liberal use of the expensive pigment.

Light

The art world recognizes Vermeer’s ability of creating forms and contours by using light instead of line. His unique modeling approach is evident particularly in figure’s face, which Vermeer delivers in planes of shadow and light. The artist accomplishes this aesthetic by following a four-step meticulous technique that was in trend among the artists of 17th century.

Brushwork

One detail of the painting alone is enough to make you appreciate the artist’s brushwork brilliance-the pearl earring. At a distance, you may observe exquisite details of this large piece of jewelry. Upon closer inspection however, you will note that merely a few simple strokes compose the astounding form.

This painting remains a legacy and one of the most cherished prizes of the art world to date.

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