Did you know this about Girl with a Pearl Earring?

2 April 2024

It is certainly Johannes Vermeer’s most famous painting: Girl with a Pearl Earring. Painted around 1665, this world-famous work of art has some stories that are perhaps not as well-known. Discover the stories behind Girl with a Pearl Earring.

The name

The work of art has not always had the name ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’. Until 1995, the painting was known as ‘Girl with Turban’, a reference to the turban worn by the girl on the painting. This is not a traditional garment that Dutch girls of that time wore, but an oriental garment. In 1995 it was decided that the name ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ would be a better name. However, in 2014 it was discovered that the pearl in the painting is not a pearl at all, but rather a glass, lacquered drop earring. The way in which the ‘pearl’ reflects the light in the painting is not the way pearls normally reflect light. Despite this discovery, the name of the artwork has not been changed, which is why the artwork is still known as Girl with a Pearl Earring.

The model

Girl with a Pearl Earring is not a portrait of a famous model. On the contrary, it is a ‘tronie’. A tronie is a portrait of an unnamed model. Many painters at the time made tronies, so they could improve their skills as a painter. For example, to learn how to express a certain facial expression. There is a theory about who the girl in the famous painting could be. It is said that Vermeer’s eldest daughter Maria may have been the model. During the period that Vermeer painted the work of art, she would have been approximately thirteen years old. However, no evidence of this has been found, which is why Girl with a Pearl Earring still retains its mysterious reputation. Because of this reputation, the painting has been nicknamed ‘Mona Lisa of the North’, in reference to Leonardo da Vinci’s world-famous Mona Lisa. But while there are several theories with clear clues about who Mona Lisa is, the identity of the girl depicted in Girl with a Pearl Earring remains a mystery.

The identity of the girl is not the only mystery regarding Vermeer and his paintings. Very little is known about Vermeer himself, which is why he was given the name ‘Sphinx of Delft’. Discover everything about the various mysteries of Vermeer’s life here.

The owners

It is suspected that after Vermeer’s death in 1675, the painting came into the possession of Pieter van Ruiven. Van Ruiven was a good acquaintance of Vermeer and supported him financially. He was also an art collector. After Van Ruiven’s death, the painting had several other owners, after which it was auctioned in The Hague in 1881. During this auction, Girl with a Pearl Earring was noticed by Victor de Stuers, government official for the arts. He recognized the painting as a work by Vermeer, even though the catalog indicated that the painter was unknown. De Stuers and his neighbor, art dealer Arnoldus Andries des Tombe, decided not to bid against each other. This led to Des Tombe buying Girl with a Pearl Earring for only two guilders thirty. After his death in 1902, he left the painting to the Mauritshuis.

Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, ca. 1665. Mauritshuis, The Hague

To celebrate the close bond between Vermeer and Royal Delft, there are various activities around the artist at Royal Delft Museum. Our master painter has also created beautiful new designs inspired by a number of works by Johannes Vermeer. Read more about Vermeer and Delft, or book your tickets:

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