Sometimes referred to as the "Dutch Mona Lisa," this mysterious painting has managed to reflect scientific inquiry in the Baroque as well as capture the attention of Hollywood. Its origin unknown before restoration, this painting was at first quite a bargain.
|1. Who is she?: Great question. No one can definitively say. In contrast to a portrait, which captures the likeness of a specific person, this is considered a "tronie" - a head or bust of a stock character in costume, in this case the turban indicates an "exotic," "Oriental" character. Closer look: Other people have drawn up all sorts of stories of who she is - the most famous of which is Tracy's Chevalier's book of the same name, which gave rise to the 2004 movie starring the lovely Scarlett Johansson, featured on the movie poster on the left.|
|2. Two brushstrokes: Scientists and artists hung out together during the Baroque period. Vermeer would have hung out with Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the man behind the microscope. Like da Vinci, Vermeer explored the science behind optics and light, to try to capture what we actually "see." His paintings often have some excuse to show this, like light illuminating something delicate, or scenes using lots of perspective. Closer look: The pearl itself is a good example of these experiments with light. Vermeer cleanly captures the accent of light as well as the reflection of the girl's collar, all in just 2 brushstrokes.|
|3. Bargain hunting: Back in 1881, the painting was put up for sale. Since no one could make out the signature, there wasn't really much of a demand for it, but one gentleman found it interesting and bought it for just 2 guilders and 30 cents. Subsequent restoration showed the signature was indeed Vermeer's. Closer look: The gentleman donated the painting to the Mauritshuis, where it can be seen today.|
Bonus: "Girl with a Pearl Earring" meets "The Matrix" in this cool video of Famous Paintings in 3-D, recommended by a reader!
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