Jan Vermeer - The Girl with the Pearl Earring

by Anne Mrosowksi


The sensitive portrait shows a girl in front of a dark background. She can be seen moving, unable to decide between turning toward and away. Vermeer, as so often, masterfully freezes this in-between moment.

The portrait ends just below the shoulder area. The girl wears a mustard-colored jacket, with white collar and a blue turban from which falls a long yellow cloth. The face is friendly, the large eyes alert. Her lips are wetted and slightly open - possibly she wants to say something or express her interest to the male observer. In contrast to the natural and unexcited portrait of the girl, a noble pearl earring sparkles on her ear, reflecting the light.


Who is the stranger, also known as "The Mona Lisa of the North"? - Whether it was a paid model or an employee of Vermeer is no longer known. Rather, it is assumed that this is not a real portrait, but a tronie. Tronies emerged as a distinct pictorial genre in the Netherlands. They have portrait-like character heads as their subject. With these, the painters wanted to depict types of people, allegories or simply practice for other paintings, such as history paintings.


In this case, the exotic dress, the oriental turban and the large pearl on the ear may reflect the interest in Turkish culture, which was a major theme in the Netherlands around 1665.


Jan Vermeer - The Girl with the Pearl Earring

Oil on canvas, 1665, 45 cm × 40 cm, Mauritshuis in The Hague