It serves no purpose second-guessing what the 17th century Dutch master painter Johannes Vermeer had in mind when he created Het Meisje met de Parel (Girl with a Pearl Earring). He has already done what he wanted to.
As this marvel goes on display at the de Young/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco today it is appropriate that I write a thing or two about his works. I think it says something about me, and obviously nothing flattering, that I came to know of this masterpiece because of the 2003 movie of the same name. The movie was directed by Peter Webber and featured Scarlett Johansson as the 17-year-old girl in the painting, Griet. Colin Firth played Vermeer.
The movie’s art direction by Christina Schaffer and cinematography Eduardo Serra together create a superb fusion in bringing alive what is known as the Dutch Golden Period. Both got nominated for the Oscars in their categories. Webber also did a terrific job bringing the best-selling selling novel by Tracey Chevalier.
A lot of Vermeer’s works, or at any rate over a dozen that I have seen courtesy the Google Art Project, stand out for the way they use light filtering in through windows. I have cited three examples below. Most of his works captured middle class interior life in the 1660s in his city of Delft.
“Girl with a Pearl Earring” remains his most celebrated work because it has the same enigmatic quality of ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci who preceded Vermeer by nearly two centuries.
Apart from the very obvious artistic merit of Vermeer’s works what I find particularly fascinating is the knowledge of the science of pigments. Look at ‘The Glass of Wine’ for instance. There are so many different colors and shades in it. From the chessboard tiles of the floor to the stained glass window, from the chair’s upholstery to the tablecloth and from the woman’s gown to the wall, it must have required an extraordinary knowledge of colors and their mixing. The movie captures those details rather well.
Vermeer was regarded as a modestly successful provincial figure at the time of the Dutch Golden Period which makes me wonder how much more gifted one had to be to be installed among the pantheon.
Officer and a Laughing Girl
The Glass of Wine
Here is my pathetic little tribute to Vermeer’s enduring masterpiece. It has no face simply because I do not have the talent to draw it. It does have the earring.
I wish I was in San Francisco.