Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

Girl with a Pearl Earring is perhaps one of Jan Vermeer‘s best known works the world over. The magnificent gaze that the girl looks over her left shoulder with is a wonderful blend of expressions. It almost feels as if the viewer has stumbled upon an intimate, personal moment. The blue and yellow color palette of the fabric of her headdress is typically Vermeer, as is his choice and depiction of this seemingly middle-class woman as his subject.

Notice the pearl earring – half covered in shadow, it catches just the right amount of light to add to the realism. It was widely speculated that this was the servant with whom Vermeer had begun a relationship, and that he painted her wearing one of his wife‘s pearl earrings!

Choosing to portray everyday scenes of middle-class Dutch life, usually consisting of women, he mostly stuck to one particular room in his home as his studio. Interestingly, many of his paintings depict the window on the left-hand side of the room, which was rarely given a thorough cleaning, thereby casting a hazy & translucent light on his subjects (The Milkmaid, Woman Weighing Pearls, Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, and many more). Seventeenth-century artists were masters at layering pigments in order to achieve the desired effect. Vermeer employed a technique called dead-coloring, or underpainting, which is the initial monochromatic distribution of lights and darks in order to add depth to the composition upon the completion of the drawing. Next, he carefully applied color to each area of the painting separately, almost in the style of “Color by Numbers” in order to achieve clear contours. This judicious application of paint allowed Vermeer to limit the amount of paint that he utilized and to create a very realistic, detailed look in his work.

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