Woman with a Pearl Necklace

I chose this painting because it was one of the few ones that I had not seen before and for some reason I liked it. I like how the girl is looking at herself, I like that she is not particularly beautiful and I enjoy all the little details in the room around her. It is probably the details that I most enjoy in Vermeer’s paintings.

First of all I looked for a long time to the painting to try and inspire myself, to try and discover objects which could create a story. I started to write the story a day later, when I had in mind all the details of the painting, to create a story the writer needs to know many more features about the character than the ones that are introduced, the better the writer understand the characters it has created, the better the story should be. So I will be analysing the painting as I analyse the elements of my story.

So, when I had understood and thought about all the objects in the room, I started to choose which objects I should include in my short story. I would of course mention the window, which Vermeer used in almost all his paintings, the mirror in which the girl looks at herself, because even if it is small it is a very important part of the scene, the basin, the chair, the dark clothes on the table, her red ribbon, the chair on her left and the yellow fur, although I will only focus in the elements which are more important in my tale. I have included most of the objects on the painting, and as they are part of everyday life, because Vermeer painted the objects in his house, it is quite easy to include them in a narrative about life in a moment of a young girl’s life.

I looked for information about the mirror, which without the scene will acquire a totally different light and tone. Mirror were started to develop and become popular in the 14th century, it was in Venice and Spain were the masters of this art lived. It was not until Renaissance that painters started to use it in their oeuvres. They discovered that through they had a new vision of life, reality could be looked at in a new way, and maybe through mirrors the point of view could be even more realistic. They also became great tools of thought, and that is precisely what the girl in my painting is doing, while she is putting her pearl necklace she is also wondering.

Another object that I use a lot is the yellow jacket fur that the girl is wearing and the type of dresses that women used to wear at that time. It was very typical to have three quarter length sleeves, as the jacket shows. The dress under it is wide and large and does not show if the women were pregnant, although it can be disorienting for the viewer, it was not popular at the time to show pregnant women in paintings. I also mention the girl’s hair style, which is worn as in the period, in a bun and although it was more common to have a few curls hanging, Vermeer represents that style on the hair of other women in his paintings. It was also very common to cover women’s hair with a cap, and hence, showing it, it means that this girl is part of the upper class society.

I write about a short scene when the girl has just woken up, and the chair on her left, which appears to be from Spanish origin, has a little importance in the main character’s routine. Quite a few writers believe that that particular chair that appears in many of Vermeer’s paintings, is the presence of a man, out of the picture at that moment, but there are no historical evidences to support that theory. Freud once said “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”, so maybe a chair in Vermeer’s paintings it is just a chair. Neutron autoradiography has shown that in the beginning the painter had drawn an instrument on that empty chair. If it had remained it would probably have given a totally different light to the scene and I would have written a different story. “The chair activates an almost physical sensation of depth to the mass of dark paint in the lower half of the composition which would have otherwise appeared flat and nondescript”. (Essential Vermeer) To portrait a chair in a painting was also a manner to show the girl’s social rank, which has already been established by the way she has her hair done and the type of dress she is wearing. That precise chair, which also appears in Woman in Blue Reading a Letter is clearly a bourgeois piece of furniture.

And finally the pearls, which close the story, appear quite frequently throughout Vermeer’s paintings. That is why by writing about them at the end I tried to give them some kind of importance. Pearls have been a source of fascination for centuries, they are created in deep sea by certain molluscs, they are perfectly round and they pale colour has been admired for decades. There are a few myth regarding pearls, some consider them to posses medicinal and talismanic powers. In Christianity, wearing pearls is also symbolic and many literature movements and art references have portrait them. In China pearls are related to the moon, which is very understandable. The legend says that the first pearl was born because of the moon, becoming one of the four beauties in the history of China.

What I enjoyed the most about this painting is not what can be clearly seen, as the objects, whose meaning is obvious, but what the objects, the girl’s face, her dress and the room as a whole suggest. It was quite easy to invent a story about such a peaceful scene, taking the subtle indicators which Vermeer left to use as an inspiration tool.