Girl With A Pearl Earring

In the 17th century, which Dutch artist created the painting Girl with a Pearl Earring?

And the answer: Johannes Vermeer.      

Photo credit: Ian Dagnall/Alamy. 

While many artists create hundreds of paintings in their lifetimes, Vermeer only created 36, most of which depict women in daily life. For centuries, Girl with a Pearl Earring has captivated observers, as the painting focuses on a girl wearing a turban, looking over her left shoulder, with a pearl earring dangling from her ear.

Often referred to as the "Mona Lisa of the North," Girl with a Pearl Earring has the allure and subtlety that is characteristic of Vermeer's work. However, it also stands apart. Often, in his pieces, Vermeer gives us a sense of intimacy while maintaining a sense of distance. A girl reading a letter, a portrait artist at work, and a piano lesson are all narrative scenes depicted by Vermeer – each seemingly moments captured in time, yet those which we, the viewer, are not a part.

Vermeer demonstrates a command of perspective and balance in his works through a technique known as foreshortening, which gives the illusion of distance through the physical manipulation of objects in space. As such, Vermeer's manipulation leads to subtle discrepancies in favor of creating an overall effect. For example, in one painting, Vermeer omits the leg of an easel altogether to maintain visual symmetry.

The absence of these elements brings Girl with a Pearl Earring to life. In this work, the entire background is obscured in darkness. Instead of a set piece in a scene, she stands alone, open mouthed, perhaps opening her mouth to speak. In this piece, the qualities that are suggested, rather than described, create the illusion of a slippery reality: is she turning away from us? How should we read her look? The bold, visibility of the brushstrokes forces the viewer to reckon with her artifice: Vermeer is an illusionist.

Learn more about this masterpiece below.

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