Girl with a Pearl Earring
Painted by the famous Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ is one of Vermeer’s most recognised masterpieces. It is currently housed in The Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, a city in the Netherlands. In the past the painting has also been called ‘The Dutch Mona Lisa’ or ‘The Mona Lisa of the North’.
Girl with a Pearl Earring
The focal point of the painting, as the name suggests, is the pearl earring. Many of the women Vermeer painted are associated with pearls, as eleven other pearls of this kind appear in his works. A strength of the painting is its use of light, illuminating the girls face and highlighting the earring. Critics suggest that an earring of this type was unlikely to exist at this time, and it has been speculated that Vermeer painted the earring from imagination. If this is in fact the case, then I think this shows Vermeer’s talent and capacity as an artist.
The turban worn by the girl, whilst at first seems out of place may not have been uncommon in the Netherlands at this time. It has been noted that turbans were a popular fashion accessory as far back as the 15th century, and other aspects of the east are also present in some of Vermeer’s other works.
The background of the painting however, does strike the viewer as slightly different from Vermeer’s other paintings. In most of his other paintings, the backgrounds are busy and full of life. Apart from the main figure in each painting Vermeer often paints furniture, musical instruments, cooking utensils, rugs and carpets, curtains and perhaps even other figures besides the main focus. In ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ however, it is evident that all of the artist’s focus is on the girl and of course, her earring.
Who is she?
The identity of the girl is the most debated about aspect of the painting, and there are many theories on the subject. I will outline the main ones;
- Vermeer’s eldest daughter, Maria – this theory has come about because scholars believe that Vermeer’s daughter, born in 1654, would have been about the same age of the girl depicted in the painting.
- The daughter of Vermeer’s principle commissioner – Vermeer’s main commissioner, Pieter Van Ruijven, had a daughter that would also fit the description of the girl in the painting and so is another suggestion as to the girl’s identity.
- Griet, the servant girl – Although no historical evidence supports the idea that Vermeer’s servant girl posed for the painting, this ides has been developed recently in Tracy Chevalier’s novel and also by the popular film staring Scarlet Johansson in 2003. Perhaps this is a romanticised theory of the identity of the girl in the painting and the story that now is associated with it.
My Creative Writing Story by Anna Holdsworth. Already handed in to Claire Firth
Inspired by the painting ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ By Johannes Vermeer.
I have written this story because I think it emphasizes the amount of unknown aspects of the painting ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’. It is a given that it was painted by Johannes Vermeer, but my story imagines that perhaps it was painted be someone who was free to pour all of his love into the painting, as that is what the painting represents for me. I also wanted to write about something entirely different, as already a well known novel and film exist that are inspired by this painting.
An Alternative take on ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’
Jeremias Visser was a deep thinker. He knew this because his mother had told him one day after finding him sat round the back of the baker’s shop, obscured from view, staring at the plumes of smoke coming from the chimney of a neighbouring house. Jeremias hadn’t understood his mother’s anger and astonishment when she found him there; after all, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Nevertheless she said, it was late, getting on for sunset, and she hadn’t known where he was. He argued that he had only sat down for a minute to watch the smoke form different patterns against the sky; it was very clear that day, and although cold, without knowing it he’d been there for hours.
Ten years on from that day, and his mother still worried about him. She worried about the long hours he worked at the apothecary, and the bruises that seemed to appear out of nowhere, marking his otherwise flawlessly pale skin. She had suggested that she should take a look at them, but Jeremias refused and tugged at the sleeves of his shirt, pulling them further down towards his wrists and hiding the purple blemishes.
Early one cold winter morning, Jeremias set off on the short walk to the apothecary. As he breathed he could feel the sharp, icy air fill his lungs and he concentrated on the ground in front of him, so not to slip on the ice. In some ways he enjoyed being out so early; it was like making the first footprints in freshly laid snow. He arrived at the shop and entered through the back door, and still wearing his outdoor clothing, began his work, sweeping, putting in order jars and bottles, removing some of them from their places to dust the selves, cleaning the weighing scales. It wasn’t a man’s work, his brother had told him, but Jeremias didn’t mind, one day he would become the apothecary himself, and not just the assistant.
An hour later, the apothecary arrived and opened up the shop for business. He was a short, round little man with a bad temper that Jeremias knew only too well. Of course, Jeremias never challenged his master as he wanted to keep his job; he knew the small amount of money he earned was important to his mother. So he endured his master’s occasional fits of temper and did everything in his power to keep him happy. The day went smoothly and for once, his master sent him home early.
Walking home by the canal, eyes fixed on the ground, something caught Jeremias’ eye. Lying on the ground in front of him was a shiny pearl earring. It looked so out of place, clean and beautiful, contrasted against the dark and dull ground, it could not be mistaken. Jeremias paused, bent down, and picked it up very carefully between his thumb and forefinger. He’d never seen anything like it. The pearl was large, bigger than he’d ever seen before, and as he turned it into the light, hundreds of colours came alive on its surface, shimmering and shining. It was entirely mesmerising.
A shout awoke Albert from his dream-like state, and he looked up.
‘Oh! You there! Yes!’
Jeremias focused on the small woman hurrying toward him, her face was red and flustered, her hands stretched out in front of her.
‘You found it, you found my mistress’ pearl, thank you so much!’ gushed the woman, now standing very close to Jeremias, she reached out for the earring.
Jeremias released the pearl from his delicate grip, and let it fall into the woman’s palm. Her fist closed tightly round it.
‘Thank you so much – erm?’
‘Jeremias, Jeremias Visser’ stammered Jeremias.
‘Mr Visser, yes, my mistress will be so pleased, I’ll return it to her straight away. Thanks’ said the woman, without taking breath.
She hurried away, and as Jeremias watched, she caught up with a young girl, no older than Jeremias himself. She was all wrapped up in a blue cloak, and standing not far ahead of him. As the woman gestured toward Jeremias, who was still standing fixed in his spot, the girl lifted her eyes to look at him directly. Even from this distance Jeremias could tell she was beautiful. He took a sharp intake of breath and stared back, not wanting to seem rude, he composed himself and nodded his head slightly to acknowledge her gaze. Her perfect red lips parted, and Jeremias was sure she saw them make a half-smile. And then, all of a sudden, she turned, and was gone.
Jeremias couldn’t move. He stood there, gazing at the empty spot where the woman had been. Eventually he gained control of his own limbs again, and set off at a fast pace towards home. Flinging open the door, he hurried into his room, shouting a rushed greeting to his mother as he flew past. Once there, he pulled out his chalkboard from underneath his pillow, sat down on the floor, and began to draw.
He worked quickly, his strokes flying over the board, the white chalk dust falling onto the floorboards. He wished silently to himself that he had more colours to work with, and more surface on which to draw. In the summer months, some of the local children would catch him in the street and beg him to draw colourful chalk murals on the pavement. Jeremias would be happy to oblige, and draw for them churches and rivers, trees and valleys. But today he wasn’t interested in landscapes; he had only one objective; to capture the beauty of the pearl earring.
Having recovered himself that afternoon in the street, and having first had the instinct to draw, the need pulsating through him that it made his fingertips burn and itch with impatience, he had thought to recreate the image of the girl’s face. However, as soon as Jeremias saw the chalk and the board, he knew there would be no way to do her angelic features justice.
A week went by, and although Jeremias went to work, and filled his day with routine activities, he never left that dream-like state. His mother asked if he was ill, it was just like her to worry thought Jeremias, but she had nothing to worry about; he was incredibly happy, however not contented. He wanted to see her again. His senses were heightened as he walked home from work, every woman’s voice, every girlish giggle, sent his heart racing and his legs weak. In the end, his second encounter with her took place at the least expected time, in the most unlikely of places.
One afternoon, Jeremias was working steadily, writing the labels, removing the old ones, and replacing them. He’d completed nearly a whole shelf, when his master called him into the back of the shop.
‘I want you to clean the storage cupboard, boy. It’ll take the rest of the afternoon I shouldn’t wonder, have you seen the dust in there! You’re next to useless; never do anything unless you’re told. Now get to it, and you’re not going home ‘til it’s done.’
With those last words, the apothecary caught Jeremias roughly by the arm, and steered him into the small space, forcing a rag into his hands, turned and went back into the shop.
Jeremias didn’t protest. He secretly liked the dark of the storage cupboard; he was free from the watchful eye of his master and could see the happenings in the shop through a small hole in the wall. The gap was tiny, but when he fixed his eye upon it, he found he could survey almost the entire room. The bell jangled and two people entered the shop, from his hiding place, Jeremias couldn’t quite see the door, but he guess from their voices it was two women. How strange, he thought, it’s so cold outside, men barely left their houses, let alone women. As they entered the shop, he caught a word or two of their conversation;
‘Mistress, are you sure…’ said one woman, in rough voice, that Jeremias thought he knew, but couldn’t place.
‘Maria, I’m determined, I must thank him myself’ said the other.
Her voice was smooth as silk, feminine and delicate. Jeremias moved his eye as close as he could to the hole, focusing on the two figures. The first woman, who was facing him so he could see her face, spoke again;
‘Well, I suppose we’re here now, this is where the baker’s boy said…’
They were interrupted by the apothecary, rushing to assist them, but Jeremias knew this was the woman who had taken the pearl from him, and that made the other, the girl, her mistress, the one who had occupied his thoughts and dreams for what seemed like eternity. She was here, she had come, and not only by chance, but looking for him. Jeremias couldn’t breathe, his chest was tight, his heart felt as though if it pumped any faster it would surely fail. He listened more carefully to their conversation, as his master said;
‘No, no one here of that name, just myself, I work alone, sorry to disappoint you, I don’t suppose I could help…’ his voice became inaudible, because blood was pounding through Jeremias ears, anger and frustration taking over all other emotions. At that moment, he remembered to breathe, and took a sharp intake of air through gritted teeth.
‘Oh!’ the girl exclaimed, and as Jeremias tensed and clapped a hand to his own mouth, she turned her head quickly to face the direction of the noise she’d heard. Jeremias released his breath and gazed through the hole in the wall. What met his eyes was even better than in his thoughts, in his dreams. The girls face was luminous, looking over her left shoulder, light shining onto the left side of her face and neck. Her eyes were wide, sparkling, full of hope and expectation. The pearl earring shone from its rightful place, complimenting her features. Like that afternoon by the canal, her precious red lips were parted, glistening and perfect. And like that afternoon at the canal, it all ended far too quickly, with a laugh and a goodbye, the bell jangled again and she was gone.
Jeremias knew he had to capture that face, that expression. It was a need rather than a desire, and one he felt he must fulfil. That evening instead of collecting his week’s wages, he asked his master for materials to paint with, ochre, black bone, linseed oil and a canvas. To Jeremias’ surprise, he wasn’t angry, but instead he laughed;
‘Do you know what these cost boy?! One thing at a time! Though god help you when you turn up with these for your mother instead of bread and meat! What kind of ideas you got in your head?’
Jeremias said nothing; he would have to think up an excuse later. Right now, little else mattered but making her image come alive, so he could see her everyday.
Seven months past, and Jeremias became absorbed in his work. Never having studied the art of painting, he made several mistakes, but the image in his head never failed him. It was still as strong as the day he had framed her face through the hole in wall, his memory not once faltered.
At last, as the cold winter set in once more, Jeremias finished his painting. He felt satisfied with his painting, but as he looked at his creation he realised; he needed something more, he needed her. She was the essence of the painting, the essence of him. In some ways, she was already his, his girl with a pearl earring. Jeremias reached over to the left-hand side of his masterpiece and signed it; ‘J.V’