I LOVE the fact that the High Museum of Art is calling their exhibit of The Girl with The Pearl Earring the High Pearl Girl. When I first started The Pearl Girls and googled “The Pearl Girls”, The Girl With The Pearl Earring would come up in the results. My goal was to at least pass this painting’s search results for Pearl Girl! Needless to say I read the book and saw the movie and this week this Pearl Girl finally got to see the original painting The Girl With The Pearl Earring! Woo hoo!
In Art History class many years ago my professor said that studying art and seeing it is completely different and this was very apparent seeing this painting in person. It was absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous but, since I was not allowed to take pictures, I cannot show you! You will have to get your rear end to the High Museum and see it yourself or one day travel to The Hague where it is permanently displayed.
There are portrait painting which are meant to capture a person or a certain event in a person’s life. They are paintings that speak volumes in their posture, dress, background and more. The Girl With The Pearl Earring is a different type of portrait, called a tronie. Tronie is a 17th century Dutch word meaning face. A tronie is meant to capture an expression or a certain aspect to a person. Usually the person is secondary to what they are expressing. The Girl with The Pearl Earring was solely meant as a study of the look on this young girl’s face and the luster of her pearl earring.
Sometime about the year 1590, two Dutch spectacle makers, Zaccharias Janssen and his father Hans started experimenting with putting lenses in a tube. When they put several lenses together they discovered that the object at the end of the tube appeared much larger. With this simple experiment, they invented the compound microscope. A few years later, a German eyeglass maker, Hans Lipperhey, experimented with combining curved lenses. In 1608 Lipperhey created a telescope. It was then used by Galileo in astronomy and the Government of the Netherlands commissioned Lipperhey to craft sets of binocular telescopes. As far out as these discoveries seem to be, they really reflect a time in history where scientists were studying things up close trying to capture what objects really look like. This scientific study was reflected in art and in the Dutch tronies and portrait paintings.
From a fashion perspective, pearls were very in style in the Netherlands and throughout Europe. However, large pearls such as the one is this painting were certainly not common. All of the available pearls were natural pearls and large natural pearls were difficult to find. It is believed that the girl in this portrait was painted with a glass earring that the artist later turned into a pearl or she was painted without an earring and the artist later added the entire pearl earring.
The Girl with The Pearl Earring is by far the most famous Dutch tronie as well as the most famous piece by Johannes Vermeer who is known to only have painted 34 pieces before his death in 1675 at age 43.