The Girl With a Pearl Earring: What Made It So Famous

The Girl With a Pearl Earring (1665) by Johannes Vermeer


Nicknamed the “Mona Lisa of the North“,the Girl with a Pearl Earring, is one of the masterpieces by famed Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer. It hauntingly engages the viewer with enhanced realism, showcasing the electrifying gaze of a young girl adorned with a blue and gold turban. Created by Vermeer in 1665 during the Baroque period, the upper bust of the girl against a dark background has a three-dimensional effect that sets off her glowing appearance.

Historic Background

In Vermeer’s era, paintings were considered to be craftsmanship instead of art. Vermeer, a Dutch master painter at his peak, dedicated his life to developing his craft. By 1665, when the Girl with a Pearl Earring was created, Vermeer had begun to depict women, demonstrating a deep interest in their socio-cultural roles. The subject in this painting is believed to be Vermeer’s daughter, Maria.

Self-Portrait of Johannes Vermeer

Subject of The Painting

The Painting was basically crafted with oil Painting on canvas and is categorized in Dutch Realism Movement arts. Although many art critics contend that the Girl with a Pearl Earring is a portrait, the prevailing argument is that it is a tronie, which is a study of the facial expressions of a living model. The composition of Girl with a Pearl Earring is delightfully simple. Unlike most of the other paintings by the Delft master, the subject here is only a simple head of a girl looking over her shoulder at the viewer. In Girl With a Pearl Earring, the young female model appears to be startled by something, while glancing taciturnly over her shoulder.No hint of a setting is provided, other than its atmospherically dark tone. This too is unusual for the mature Vermeer. The unusually direct contact between subject and spectator, and the slightly parted position of the lips, presents a sense of immediacy so great as to imply significant intimacy. The girl is wearing a simple brownish-yellow top, which contrasts strongly with her bright white collar. A further contrast is offered by her blue and yellow or turban (or chaperon) which gives the picture a distinctly exotic effect. During Vermeer’s time, the turban was a popular prop for tronies because of its deep folds and robust shades, which allowed artists to show off their skills and abilities.

Discussing the Painting: The uniqueness

Utilizing the technique of under-painting, or a monochromatic ground, Vermeer made the Girl with a Pearl Earring seem to lift from the canvas. Through careful use of his palette, he created the deep, rich tones of the girl’s headdress and gown. Then, to give her skin a glowing appearance, he used pigments to create light and shadow effect that contrasted the background. The Pearl Earring, status symbol of the period , worn by the subject, composed by only two brush strokes. The two whites, one on each corner of her mouth, helped to enliven the subject’s pensive smile.

Scarlett Johansson in Girl With a Pearl Earring movie (2003)

The Painter’s Touch: The Cinematic Adoption

Although now a highly regarded artist, Vermeer was not well known outside of his native city of Delft during his lifetime or in the decades after. Historians credit the 19th-century French critic Étienne-Joseph-Théophile-Thoré (under the pseudonym of William Bürger) for reassessing the artist’s work, which eventually led to Vermeer’s distinguished reputation. Even so, Girl with a Pearl Earring became one of Vermeer’s more famous pieces only around the turn of the 21st century, with the 1995 blockbuster exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington,D.C. and the publication of the best-selling novel Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier in 1999. The book fashioned the painting’s subject into a housemaid named Griet who works in Vermeer’s home and becomes his paint mixer. It was adapted into an Oscar nominated movie in 2003 starring Scarlett Johansson as the fictional Griet and Colin Firth as Vermeer.

Scarlett Johansson as Griet and Colin Firth as Vermeer in Girl With a Pearl Earring movie (2003)

Where at Present Day

Mauritshuis, Den Haag, Netherlands

As the buildings of Mauritshuis Museum ,Hague underwent renovation in 2012, Girl with the Pearl Earring travelled to Japan, Italy, and the United States. It drew crowds in each location, attesting to its now firm place in audience regard. When Girl returned to the Netherlands in 2014, the Mauritshuis announced it would no longer lend out the painting, assuring visitors that the museum’s main attraction would always be in its home.

Princess Kate Middleton of England came face-to-face with one of the best-loved paintings in the world — “Girl with a Pearl Earring” — during a visit to the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague.


Humans have always adored paintings as one of the highest form of visual arts, and few of such arts can truly surpasses the inertness of still lives and remains immortal forever. The Girl With a Pearl Earring, poses the appeal of simplicity to rethink of life and consider the fact that beauty of life can also be found in the simplest joys around us.