The identity of the girl featured in Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" remains unknown to this day.
Image: Stan Honda / AFP
Known as the "Mona Lisa of the North," "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is one of Vermeer's most iconic masterpieces, even though it is shrouded in mystery. A new exhibition at The Hague's Mauritshuis aims to shed new light on one of the world's most beautiful and enigmatic portraits.
With her back to the viewer, the girl's head is turned slightly, as if she wants to share a secret. What is she thinking? What would she like to tell us? "Girl with a Pearl Earring" raises a host of questions for the beholder. That's why the Mauritshuis in The Hague has decided to devote an exhibition to this legendary artwork, running until January 7, 2024.
"Who's That Girl?" shares with visitors to the Dutch museum the latest discoveries concerning this painting, which it has been exhibiting since 1903. These findings were first made public in 2020, but have never before been the subject of a dedicated exhibition. The show revolves around a four-meter-high reproduction of "Girl with a Pearl Earring," enabling art lovers to discover the finer details of a painting that has undergone numerous modifications over the centuries.
One of them concerns the background of "Girl with a Pearl Earring." This young woman, wearing a blue and yellow headscarf or turban and a large pearl dangling from her ear, was apparently originally painted against a green curtain, rather than a seemingly empty space as the painting suggests. Research by Mauritshuis teams has determined that this curtain has faded over the centuries, due to physical and chemical changes in the paint that Johannes Vermeer used to create this artwork in around 1665-1667. The "Who's That Girl?" exhibition features a selection of 10 pigments that the Dutch master would have used in his work, as well as a world map showing their provenance.Also read: Girl with AI earrings sparks Dutch art controversy
Some mystery remains
The exhibition also allows visitors to the Mauritshuis to discover what "Girl with a Pearl Earring" looked like once Vermeer had made his final brushstrokes. In fact, this emblematic painter of the Dutch Golden Age made a number of changes to the painting, including shifting the position of the ear, the top of the headscarf and the nape of his subject's neck. He is also reported to have added eyelashes to the girl's eyes, even though these are no longer visible to the naked eye.
While the "Who's That Girl?" exhibition lifts the veil on some of the secrets surrounding the "Girl with a Pearl Earring," the identity of its model remains unknown to this day. No one knows if she really existed, although some art historians claim she was one of Johannes Vermeer's daughters. In her bestseller named after the painting, novelist Tracy Chevalier imagined that she was a servant in the Vermeers' Delft home.
The Mauritshuis is devoting this mini-exhibition to "Girl with a Pearl Earring" in the wake of the recent major Vermeer retrospective at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum. The latter attracted some 650,000 visitors in almost five months, making it the museum's biggest hit in terms of attendance. Proof, if proof were needed, of the Dutch painter's power to pull the crowds.