“Girl with a Pearl Earring” was originally titled “Girl with a Turban” and it wasn’t until the second half of the 20th Century that the name was changed. Regarded as Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece, this canvas is often referred to as the Mona Lisa of the North or the Dutch Mona Lisa.
The girl in this painting is believed to be Vermeer’s eldest daughter, Maria, who was about 12 or 13-years-old at the time it was created. Her facial features appear in several of Vermeer’s works but his various techniques on his subject make it difficult to compare the female faces in his paintings, as the women are portrayed in different lighting conditions and poses.
There is very little information about Vermeer and his paintings. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is signed “IVMeer” but there is no date on this work. It remains unknown whether or not this canvas was commissioned and if so, by whom. It’s more likely that this image was a “tronie,” the Dutch 17th-Century description of a ‘head’ painting that was not intended as a portrait.
“Girl with a Pearl Earring” is one of more than 40 images of women created by Vermeer and thus it is obvious that he had a keen interest in women’s socio-cultural roles. It could be argued that he valued their role in maintaining his idealist way of life by ensuring order within the household and raising children within Christian values. Therefore, women played a pivotal role in safeguarding tradition and moral values through the generations.
Vermeer depicted his women in thought-provoking stillness and also as encouraging images that inspired homogeny.
With this painting, the viewer is captured by the subject and believes he or she has caught the girl’s attention and caused her to turn her head. This is a sensual painting with the girl gazing at the viewer with wide eyes and a parted mouth and there is an air of mystery surrounding her identity.
In 1994 this canvas was restored which involved removing the yellowed varnish along with the retouches that had been made during previous restorations. This resulted in the vivid colors originally used by Vermeer shining through, and the intimacy of the girl’s gaze was also greatly enhanced.
The turban being worn in “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was a popular prop at the time and its elaborate folds and rich materials were a great way of showing off the artists’ skill. The turban also demonstrates the influence of other countries as various slaves came to the Netherlands and explorers would bring back new exotic artifacts and inventions.