The woman with a pearl necklace

The Woman with a Pearl Necklace



When looking to all the paintings of Vermeer, we find that they are moments which we experience in our lives and that what makes his paintings so beautiful and eternal. But what had attracted me in The Women with a Pearl Necklace is that we see in it an action which we do in everyday life, women and men. For some people, the lady is admiring herself, for others she is looking to the beautiful pearl necklace, but for others she is thinking of something else which may or may not have a relation with the pearl necklace. The painting may seem very calm and silent but in a way it talks to the viewer and breath into him many feelings. This painting in particular is putting us in the state in which we come to decide which way to take, which things we like, and what do we want to.patron, Van Ruijven

Description of the Painting:

The woman with the a Pearl Necklace portrays a woman gazing into a mirror while holding two yellow ribbons that are attached to a pearl necklace she wears. She stands behind a table on which there are many different subjects and a chair in the corner of a sunlit room.

Comparing to other Paintings:


In this painting, along with Woman in Blue Reading a Letter and Woman Holding a Balance, Vermeer made a composition in which he showed a single woman focusing on some kind of occupation. In each case, the woman is shown turning inward with her thoughts, and using some minor physical activity to give herself some countenance. In this case, she gazes into a mirror while holding two yellow ribbons attached to a pearl necklace around her neck. The distance between the lonely figure to the right and the mirror on the wall, next to the window to the left, is filled by a heavy table slightly to the fore. This part of the painting is very dark, with nothing more than a Chinese vase and a rug irregularly covering the table to occupy the space.

The falling light in from the left, dispersed by the creamy bare wall, shows the meditative young woman admiring her reflection in the small mirror. The stillness and introspection of the models reflect the search for aloof withdrawal and serenity as taught by Buddhist writings. It is in this sense that we must understand and appreciate Vermeer’s creations during his maturity.

The Woman with a pearl necklace, now in Berlin, is one of the largest of Vermeer’s small, single-figure paintings, having a few centimeters more height than the National Gallery paintings, for example. It is probably the work listed in the 1696 inventory as “a young lady adorning herself, very beautiful”. Yet despite this and its size, it was priced at only 63 guilders, in contrast with the smaller but in many ways similar Woman holding a balance.

Even within the restricted range and constant repetitions of Vermeer’s pictorial topography, these two most narrowly coincide. Only the Woman tuning a Lute, in the Metropolitan, New York, which is on the scale of the Woman with a pearl necklace, might be compared with them. All three show the window butted against the plain rear wall; the leading, where it is visible, is the clear version of the heraldic pattern seen in the other Berlin painting, the Glass of wine. All three have a similar heavy table placed against the window wall, slightly to the fore of the window. Two further similarities are shared by the Woman with a pearl necklace and Woman holding a balance: the carpet covering the table is rucked back to form an irregular range of ridges and valleys, at once exposing the bare table-top and obscuring the objects on it, and beside the window hangs a similar mirror. Oddly, perhaps, the mirror into which the woman with a pearl necklace is looking is smaller than that in the Woman holding a balance. In reproduction the two appear to make a pair not dissimilar to the two in the National Gallery, London. In reality, the difference in size means that they cannot have been intended as pendants in the strict sense. Nevertheless, as they both were, in all probability, bought directly from the artist by his patron, Van Ruijven, it may be that the second piece (whichever that might have been) was painted in the knowledge that the two works would remain in the one collection and be seen in a similar light.


Retrieved March 17, 2009, from:

4 responses to “The woman with a pearl necklace

  1. She hasn’t moved her hands in more than three hundred years – the Woman with a Pearl Necklace.
    One of my favourite speakers, Ronald Dart of “Born To Win”, has said some thing that should be just as UNsurprising while making a point about “Character” and the nature of our lives. He said, (not verbatim – sorry) that if one gets into a car drunk, and kills someone, that it is impossible to make it right or to change the charges and the consequences of a manslaughter conviction; or, if that one loses an arm in the accident, God will not replace it, but that person will be armless for life. He was saying that our actions determine what we are even if noone knows what we have done. We know!
    Vermeer’s art is all about moderate and temperate behaviour, that his Ladies have failed to perform. Their “Appearance” in each work, depending on an earlier or later date of his Genre piece’s execution, is either blatantly “guilty” in a non-judgemental fashion for the former, or “innocent until proven guilty” in the latter. His Women, like we all, “…have sinned and come short of the glory (Perfection) of God.” The Woman with the Pearl Necklace is of the latter group of Innocents.
    The woman appears to be involved in ordinary activities of adornment. Even the usual charge of Vanity due to the use of mirror, powder brush and comb in symbolism often quoted, will seem excessive criticism to the observer, when each of us deigns it not only necessary, but a tribute, duty and courtesy to one’s friends to make oneself wholly presentable to the occasion; without excess. Here, though, there is excess of a different sort.
    Yellow and red are always clues to sensual play in Vermeer’s symbolic language. The sanguine note of her hair’s bow sings unmistakeably about the expectancy of a tryst. The empty burgundy velvet covered chairs, symbol of an absent male, subtly reflects and may suggest a cooling of the ardor pent up in the lady’s hot bow. Its red presence speaks of another expectancy. The lady will labour. Her sin will have consequence.

    • I have to write about the painting “The Art of Painting” (Vermeer), could you tell me 1- Why the different titles?
      2- Why does Vermeer include himself?
      3- Why does he paint himself from behind?

  2. In Emblemata parlance and mythic lore, the chain of gold and the string of pearls link conjoining couples in matrimony or the nuptial couch of Venus’ conjugal love , as I have previously evidenced. The lady has cinched, tautly, the silk or satin bands of ribbon in the Woman with the Pearl Necklace, never to repent of it; at least not in our forseeable lives. It is the colour and care of the set form of the red bow in her hair, that clinches our knowledge of her intent for immediate fulfillment of an amorous afternoon; pictured as an expectant lover awaiting the arrival in full daylight. The lady appears confident that the news of her pregnancy will be, or has been, well received. Vermeer tells us that the woman lives in a moment of expectancy of the father and his child.
    In this painting, Vermeer has used the straight lines of the orthogonals to a vanishing point on the horizon line, at a half-way point along the top edge of the chairback against the wall, accurately drawn, so that others could be identified as incorrect, but deftly placed.
    Allow me to digress a moment to admire the simple and sophisticated use Vermeer has made of some other straight lines in the accomplished way that he designed and painted the yellow curtain! Yes! He must have drawn this out beforehand! It does not seem reasonable that they were produced on the canvas. The invisible lines are not drawn to be the (rounded) edges of the relatively stiff material’s convolutions, but as interplay from an edge of form, across a fold to the origin of one, at he top, from another at the base of it. The tension of the material as it conforms to the lower window’s frame is felt largely through the vertical grid-like structure of these straight lines. Genius!
    Similarly, Vermeer, like many painters of different genres, makes straight line connections between the elements of this painting. Vermeer, though, will confound the limits of credulity, with his uncanny belief in the degree of perceptual ability of visual, cognitive awareness that we possess; whether consciously or subliminally. He would, of course, not speak in those terms. A case in point:
    I have said that the orthogonals of this perspective are sure. One of the exceptions is the first window pane divider below the top of the lower window’s horizontal frame. Accurately drawn, the two orthogonals cannot be said to go to the centre of the top of the chairback, but pass this structure at about the one-quarter point and continue on to touch the outermost corner of the inner border, then the right edge of the blue and white bowl or container and, finally, to the closest corner, to the viewer, of the small comb beside the powder brush. The emblematic importance of the comb to this painting rests in the dual nature of its use as a means of cleaning the hair of vermin, but also to adorn. Later emblems enlarged the comb’s symbolism to represent spiritual purity as well. Click the “HIDDEN MEANING” section at the bottom of this link’s page. Below is a sample of the type of comb Vermeer has painted:

    One of these two lines of the window divider would, also, likely be touching the back right hand corner of the table, which is hidden to the viewer by the brush. This corner proves to be significant in the three dimensional placement in space of objects relative to one another. Logically, the table’s back edge though hidden well by Vermeer, must be BELOW the flared hairs of the brushes bristles. That edge does, therefore, align to the closeer border of the window, when a reasonable wallside table orthogonal is drawn. The beautiful Chinese ginger jar will then be seen to be in the centre at the back of the table. Vermeer appears to have attempted to replace the back border of the table with the top edge of the bowl/container, making the table seem to go deeper, slightly, into the room. Even with this accomplished, the position of the woman’s body, for the most part (three-quarters or more), is beyond the end of the table! Since the mirror on the wall is distal to the window, and thus, its borders are within the length of the table, the woman could not, physically, be looking into the mirror. She is positioned to be looking out of the window, which Vermeer has made impossible, by painting the horizontal frame of the lower window at the lady’s EYE LEVEL. An inspection of other works by Vermeer clearly show that the window’s midpoint and frame would be above the woman’s gaze. He assures our belief in the woman’s target by these anomalies.
    Under the table and behind it is a white floor tile of a diamond pattern against which the back leg of the table is silouetted. The table leg is correctly placed for a table that would reach back to the middle of the window! Its centre line, vertically, aligns with the side of the chair. The chairs leg is behind the table leg. The white tile’s sides are angled correctly, allowing its midline orthogonal to meet the vanishing point on the chairback. The false leg position aids in the allusion that she is before the mirror.
    There are two other false orthogonals which are guides to a point of interest, which, it could be argued, are easily imperceptable and only were drawn to prove the importance of their convergent termination point. They are lines of the top and bottom edges of the mirror. The point where they converge is at the bright highlight on the end of the powder brush’s handle. This dot of light becomes the focal point that reveals the secret of the woman’s pregnancy.
    First, it should be noted, that the brush, itself, was intended by Vermeer to mimic the general form of the woman, or he conformed her shape to the conical form of the soft-haired applicator. It may be too simple to see the powder brushes function as a means of covering up, and the lady’s clothes that may be covering her sins. We do have a precedent for justification in that judgement of a revelation. The converging lines are telltale. From the point of light on the handle of the brush that Vermeer identified, draw two lines toward the woman’s body; one along the bottom edge of the bristles and another along the top outermost edge. The first line is horizontal and underscores the ermine hem of her Jak. The top line enters at a distinct fold in the ermine border above her belly. Below that fold, her jacket opens and divides slightly. The two outer lines of the brush are enveloping her baby, just as she herself has done. Proving Vermeer’s intent are many other lines radiating from this same highlight. Both of her little fingers each have an edge aligned, as well as to her forehead and the edges of almost every pearl of the necklace align to two structural and colour components, each, of the RED BOW and the brush’s brilliant highlight.

  3. Above – 4 lines above the Capitalized words EYE LEVEL, it should read:
    …the mirror on the wall is proximal to the window…
    NOT distal.

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