Sunday, September 1, 2013

Girl with a Pearl Earring

This painting is one, if not; the most widely known of Vermeer's  works. There is a lot of mystery about who this girl was and the fancy head scarf. Hollywood capitalized on the popularity of this painting and made a movie in 2003 with the name "Girl with a Pearl Earring" ( The movie uses many known facts from Vermeer's life, including the Master relationship with Pieter Claesz Van Ruijven, a wealthy Delft citizen who was also Vermeer's main patron. The movie weaves its story around a house maid that creates a strange and tense relationship with Vermeer and Pieter Van Ruijven. Van Ruijven and his wife Maria de Knuijt were his main patrons and owned most of Vermeer's works. Therefore the movie explores the tense relationship between the wealthy patron and Vermeer's family dependency of his will and whims. As a result, the maid ends up being the model for the now iconic Girl with a Pearl Earring.

In reality, nobody knows who the model was or why would Vemeer choose such a fancy headscarf. There are no other visual references to such a garment anywhere else. The headscarf is definitely an outlier,  it was a very unusual in those times  and probably today too. I think he just wanted to draw attention with a colorful prop.

Since I have been exploring Vermeer's work with my photographic tools, this is one painting that I had to address. Like all other previous paintings, I wanted to add a plausible story of my own. I ended up with three related photo paintings exploring the subject.

First, the actual Girl with a Pearl Earring (top right), here is my story. Vermeer asked one of his daughters to model for a new painting. Times are tough and he cannot afford a professional model. He finishes the painting of his daughter which he plans to modify later making her look older for the commissioned painting. Painting in layers is a common practice for oil painters and specially at the time. Xrays have revealed all sort of objects and subjects being modified and or completely erased by a new layer of paint.

Second , what happened before the model posed for Vermeer. Girl With A Pearl Earring Blowing Bubbles. The story goes as; Vermeer has started to work in a new painting that features one of his daughters wearing a fancy headscarf and pearl earrings borrowed from his wife Catharine Bolnes. His daughter got ready for the modeling session and she is in the room waiting for her father. He is out, he went to purchase some lapis lazuli to make the paint he needs for the blue portion of the headscarf. His daughter sat in the room for a while, but it didn't take long before she got bored. Then, she grabbed one of Vermeer's unused clay pipes and with some soap and water she started to blow bubbles, she is back at being a kid.

Third; Girl With A Pearl Earring At A Window. After the tense modelling session, the little girl is now calm and at the house window, where she was looking outside her constrained inside world. 

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