Where in the World? Pearl

September 12, 2022

In this episode of Where in the World?, Curator Aimee Ng dives deep into the history of pearls and their appearance in paintings by Vermeer. In seventeenth-century Holland, pearls signified a wearer’s ability to purchase the expensive natural gems, which skilled divers in the Dutch colonies harvested from the Indian Ocean under dangerous conditions.

The Frick’s temporary move to Frick Madison has prompted new ways of looking at our works of art. The reframing of the collection sheds light on the fact that the Frick's art, although predominantly European, is undeniably linked to the world beyond Europe. In this series, we’re exploring some of these stories, asking "where in the world" we can find new connections to familiar objects.

Mistress and Maid


To learn more

Donkin, R.A. Beyond Price: Pearls and Pearl-fishing: Origins to the Age of Discoveries. Philadelphia, 1998.

Machado, Pedro, et al., Pearls, People, and Power: Pearling and Indian Ocean Worlds. Athens, OH, 2019.

Ostroff, Samuel M. “The Beds of Empire: Power and Profit at the Pearl Fisheries of South India and Sri Lanka, c. 1770–1840.” PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 2016.

Warsh, Molly A. “Adorning Empire: A History of the Early Modern Pearl Trade, 1492–1688.” PhD diss., Johns Hopkins University, 2009.

Warsh, Molly A. “Assessing Worth across the Iberian Empires: Pearls and the Role of Human Capital in the Creation of Value, c. 1500–1700,” in Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 19, no. 2 (2019): 52–74.

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