Girl with a Pearl Earring

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)
Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665
Oil on canvas
17 ½ x 15 3/8 in. (44.5 x 39.0 cm)
Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague
Bequest of Arnoldus des Tombe, 1903
Inv. no 670

The girl’s features may have been inspired by a live model, but her identity is unknown. Many subjects have been suggested, including the artist’s eldest daughter, but none of these proposals has been widely embraced. The painting belongs to a distinctly Dutch subcategory of portraiture known as the tronie. Tronies depict idealized faces or exaggerated expressions and often feature exotic trappings, like the turban and enormous earring worn by the girl.

Pearls appear in eight paintings by Vermeer, including the Frick’s Mistress and Maid. As no real pearl of this size has been documented, Vermeer’s model likely wore a glass drop varnished to look like a true pearl. The piece may also be the product of Vermeer’s imagination.

During conservation treatment in 1994, one of three highlights on the pearl’s surface was revealed to be a flake of loosened paint. With the speck removed, the pearl appears again as Vermeer intended. A subtle highlight on the girl’s lip, made by Vermeer but overpainted during past treatment, was also uncovered. Finally, it was discovered that Vermeer applied a translucent green paint over dark underpaint to create the background. The pigments have discolored over time, making the setting appear completely black.

Detail of Girl with a Pearl Earring  during varnish removal and before retouching