Girl with a Pearl Earring

(Meisje met de parel)
c. 1665- 1667
Oil on canvas
46.5 x 40 cm. (18 1/4 x 15 1/4 in.)
Mauritshuis, The Hague
there are 9 hotspots in the image below

Girl with a Pearl Earring,  Johannes Vermeer

It is always the beauty of this portrait head, its purity, freshness, radiance, sensuality that is singled out for comment. Vermeer himself, as Gowing notes, provides the metaphor: she is like a pearl. Yet there is a sense in which this response, no matter how inevitable, begs the question of the. painting, and evades the claims it makes on the viewer. For to look at it is to be implicated in a relationship so urgent that to take an instinctive step backward into aesthetic appreciation would seem in this case a defensive, an act of betrayal and bad faith. It is me at whom she gazes, with real, unguarded human emotions, and with an erotic intensity that demands something just as real and human in return. The relationship may be only with an image, yet it involves all that art is supposed to keep at bay.

Edward A. Snow, A Study of Vermeer, 1979

Signature of Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring
inscribed top left corner IVMeer (IVM in ligature)

c. 1665-1666
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. Vermeer: The Complete Works, New York, 1997)

c. 1665-1667
Walter Liedtke Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, New York, 2008)

The fine, plain-weave linen support, which has been lined, has a threadcount of 14.7 x 14.3 per cm 2. Only fragments of the original tacking edges survive.

The composition was laid in with light and dark areas. The ground is a thick, yellowish-white layer containing lead white; chalk, and possibly umber.

The dark background and the deeper shadows of the girl's face, turban, and bodice were established with a mixture of black and earth pigments and further modeled with a paler, ocher color. The shadow of her nose was underpainted with red lake while the highlights on her nose, right cheek and forehead have a thick, cream colored underpaint. The turban was painted with varying shades of an ultramarine and lead-white mixture; wet-in-wet, over which a blue glaze was applied, except in the highlights. A thin, off-white scumble of paint over the brown shadow of the girl's neck defines the pearl, and is painted more opaquely at the bottom where the pearl reflects the white collar. Small hairs from Vermeer's brush are found in the half-tones of the flesh areas.

* Johannes Vermeer (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art and Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis - Washington and The Hague, 1995, edited by Arthur Wheelock)

literature

Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring with frame

  • (?) Pieter Claesz van Ruijven, Delft (d. 1674); (?) his widow, Maria de Knuijt, Delft (d. 1681);
  • (?) their daughter, Magdalena van Ruijven, Delft (d. 1682);
  • (?) her widower, Jacob Abrahamsz Dissius (d. 1695); Dissius sale, Amsterdam, 16 May 1696, no. 38, 39 or 40 [tronies];
  • Braams sale, The Hague, 1881 (day and month unknown), to Des Tombe;
  • Arnoldus Andries des Tombe, The Hague (1881-d.1902);
  • 1903 bequest of Arnoldus des Tombe to the Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis, The Hague (inv. 670).
  • The Hague 1890
    Catalogus der tentoonstelling van schilderijen van oude meesters. Pulchri Studio.
    57, no. 117.
  • Paris 1921
    Exposition hollandaise. Tableaux, aquarelles et dessins anciens et modernes. Jeu de Paume.
    10, no. 106.
  • Rome 1928
    Mostra di capolavori della pittura olandese. Galleria Borghese.
    100, no. 125 and ill.
  • London 1929
    Exhibition of Dutch Art, 1450-1900. Royal Academy of Arts.
    145, no. 306.
  • The Hague 1945
    Nederlandsche kunst van de XVde en XVIde eeuw. Mauritshuis.
    no. 134.
  • Antwerp 1946
    De Hollandsche Schilderkunst van Jeroen Bosch tot Rembrandt. Keuze van Meesterwerken uit Nederlandsche Musea. Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten.
    no. 91 and ill.
  • Delft 1950
    Het Koninklijke kabinet 'Het Mauritshuis' in het museum 'Het Prinsenhof' te Delft. Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof.
    11, no. 27.
  • The Hague 24 June – 5 September, 1966
    In het licht van Vermeer. Mauritshuis.
    no. V and ill.
  • Paris 24 September – 28 November, 1966
    Dans la lumière de Vermeer. Musée de l'Orangerie.
    no. VI and ill.
  • Washington D. C. 1982
    Mauritshuis, Dutch Paintings of the Golden Age. National Gallery of Art.
    120-121, no. 38 and ill.
  • Paris 1986
    De Rembrandt à Vermeer: Les peintres hollandais au Mauritshuis à la Haye. Grand Palais.
    358-362, no. 54 and ill.
  • Washington D. C. November 12, 1995 - February 11, 1996
    Johannes Vermeer. National Gallery of Art.
    166-169, no. 15, repro.
  • The Hague March 1 - June 2, 1996
    Johannes Vermeer. Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis.
    166-169, no. 15, repro.
  • Osaka 4 April – 2 July, 2000
    The public and the private in the age of Vermeer. Osaka Municipal Museum of Art.
    186-189, no. 34 and ill.
  • Kobe 1 October, 2012 – 23 December, 2013
    Masterpieces from the Royal Picture Gallery. Tokyo Art Museum. City Museum Kobe.
  • Tokyo 30  June – 17, September, 2012
    Masterpieces from the Royal Picture Gallery. Tokyo Art Museum.
  • San Francisco 26 January – 2 June, 2013
    Masterpieces from the Royal Picture Gallery. de Young - San Francisco Museum of Art.
  • New York 22 October, 2013 – 12 January, 2014
    Masterpieces from the Royal Picture Gallery.
  • Atlanta 22 June – 29, September, 2013
    Masterpieces from the Royal Picture Gallery. High Museum of Art.
  • Bologna, Italy, 8 febbraio - 25 maggio 2014
    La ragazza con l'orecchino di perla: Il mito della Golden Age. Da Vermeer a Rembrandt capolavori dal Mauritshuis. Palazzo Fava.
Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring in scale
1665
vermeer's life Pieter van Ruijven and his wife Maria Knuijt leave 500 guilders to Vermeer in their last will and testament. This kind of a bequest is very unusual and testifies a close relationship between Vermeer and Van Ruijven that went beyond the usual patron/painter one. It would seem that in his life-time the rich Delft burger had bought a sizable share of Vermeer's artistic output.
dutch painting

Rembrandt paints The Jewish Bride.

Adriaen van Ostade paints The Physician in His Study.

c. 1665 Gerrit Dou painted Woman at the Clavichord and a Self-Portrait in which he resembled Rembrandt.

european painting & architecture

Bernini finishes high altar, St. Peter's, Rome (begun 1656).

Murillo: Rest on the Flight into Egypt.

Nicolas Poussin, French painter, dies. Known as the founder of French Classicism, he spent most of his career in Rome which he reached at age 30 in 1624. His Greco-Romanism work includes The Death of Chione and The Abduction of the Sabine Women.

Compagnie Saint-Gobain is founded by royal decree to make mirrors for France's Louis XIV. It will become Europe's largest glass-maker.

Francesco Borromini completes Rome's Church of San Andrea delle Fratte.

music

Molière: Don Giovanni.

Sep 22, Moliere's L'amour Medecin, premiered in Paris.

literature

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society begins publication.

science & philosophy

Giovanni Cassini determines rotations of Jupiter, Mars, and Venus.

Peter Chamberlen, court physician to Charles 11, invents midwifery forceps

Pierre de Fermat, French mathematician, dies. His equation xn + yn = zn is called Fermat's Last Theorem and remained unproven for many years. The history of its resolution and final proof by Andrew Wiles is told by Amir D. Aczel in his 1996 book Fermat's Last Theorem. Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem by Simon Singh was published in 1997. In 1905 Paul Wolfskehl, a German mathematician, bequeathed a reward of 100,000 marks to whoever could find a proof to Fermat's "last theorem." It stumped mathematicians until 1993, when Andrew John Wiles made a breakthrough.

Francis Grimaldi: Physicomathesis de lumine (posth.) explains diffraction of light.

Isaac Newton experiments on gravitation; invents differential calculus.

Robert Hooke's Micrographia, with illustrations of objects viewed through a microscope, is published. The book greatly influences both scientists and educated laypeople. In it, Hooke describes cells (viewed in sections of cork) for the first time. Fundamentally, it is the first book dealing with observations through a microscope, comparing light to waves in water.

Mathematician Pierre de Fermat dies at Castres January 12 at age 63, having (with the late Blaise Pascal) founded the probability theory. His remains will be reburied in the family vault at Toulouse.

history

English naval forces defeat a Dutch fleet off Lowestoft June 3 as a Second Anglo-Dutch war begins, 11 years after the end of the first such war. General George Monck, 1st duke of Albemarle, commands the English fleet, Charles II bestows a knighthood on Irish-born pirate Robert Holmes, 42, and promotes him to acting rear admiral, giving him command of the new third-rate battleship Defiance, but the Dutch block the entrance to the Thames in October

Feb 6, Anne Stuart, queen of England (1702-14), is born.

At least 68,000 Londoners died of the plague in this year.

University of Kiel is founded.

The second war between England and the United Provinces breaks out. It will last until 1667 and devastate the art market.

Mar 11, A new legal code was approved for the Dutch and English towns, guaranteeing religious observances unhindered.

Nov 7, The London Gazette, the oldest surviving journal, is first published.

Ceylon becomes important trade centre for the VOC

1666
vermeer's life

The Concert presents a very similar deep spatial recession similar to the earlier Music Lesson. Vermeer's interest in the accurate portrayal of three dimensional perspective to create such an effect was shared by other interior genre painters of the time, however, only Vermeer seems to have fully and consciously understood the expressive function of perspective. The two paintings' underlying theme of music between male and female company is also analogous although few critics believe they were conceived as a pendant.

In the paintings of the 1660s the painted surfaces are smoother and less tactile, the lighting schemes tend to be less bold. These pictures convey and impalpable air of reticence and introspection, unique among genre painters with the possible exception of Gerard ter Borch.

dutch painting Frans Hals, eminent Dutch portrait painter, dies. It was formerly believed that he died in the Oudemannenhuis almshouse in Haarlem which was later became the Frans Halsmuseum.
european painting & architecture

François Mansart, French architect, dies.

Apr 9, 1st public art exhibition (Palais Royale, Paris).

music Dec 5, Francesco Antonio Nicola Scarlatti, composer, is born.
literature Le Misanthrope by Molière is palyed at the Palais-Royal, Paris.
science & philosophy

Laws of gravity established by Cambridge University mathematics professor Isaac Newton, 23, state that the attraction exerted by gravity between any two bodies is directly proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Newton has returned to his native Woolsthorpe because the plague at Cambridge has closed Trinity College, where he is a fellow; he has observed the fall of an apple in an orchard at Woolsthorpe and calculates that at a distance of one foot the attraction between two objects is 100 times stronger than at 10 feet. Although he does not fully comprehend the nature of gravity, he concludes that the force exerted on the apple is the same as that exerted on Earth by the moon.

Calculusis invented by Isaac Newton will prove to be one of the most effective tool for scientific investigation ever produced by mathematics.

Nov 14, Samuel Pepys reported the on first blood transfusion, which was between dogs.

The plague decimates London and Isaac Newton moved to the country. He had already discovered the binomial theorem at Cambridge and was offered the post of professor of mathematics. Newton formulates his law of universal gravitation.

A French Academy of Sciences (Académie Royale des Sciences) founded by Louis XIV at Paris seeks to rival London's 4-year-old Royal Society. Jean Baptiste Colbert has persuaded the king to begin subsidizing scientists. Christiaan Huygens, along with 19 other scientists, is elected as a founding member. After the French Revolution, the Royale is dropped and the character of the academy changes. It later becomes the Institut de France.

history

Sep 2, The Great Fire of London, started at Pudding Lane, began to demolish about four-fifths of London when in the house of King Charles II's baker, Thomas Farrinor, forgets to extinguish his oven. The flames raged uncontrollably for the next few days, helped along by the wind, as well as by warehouses full of oil and other flammable substances. Approximately 13,200 houses, 90 churches and 50 livery company halls burn down or explode. But the fire claimed only 16 lives, and it actually helped impede the spread of the deadly Black Plague, as most of the disease-carrying rats were killed in the fire.

Because almost all European paper is made from recycled cloth rags, which are becoming increasingly scarce as more and more books and other materials are printed, the English Parliament bans burial in cotton or linen cloth so as to preserve the cloth for paper manufacture.

1667
vermeer's life

Vermeer's name is mentioned in a poem by Arnold Bon in Dirck van Bleyswijck's Beschryvinge der Stadt Delft (Description of the City of Delft) published in 1667. It is the most significant and direct reference to Vermeer's art to be found. The poem written by Arnold Bon, Bleyswyck's publisher, was composed in the honor of Carel Fabritius who had died in the famous ammunitions explosion. Vermeer's name is lauded in the poem's last stanza.

Thus did this Phoenix, to our loss, expire,
In the midst and at the height of his powers,
But happily there arose out of the fire
Vermeer, who masterfully trod in his path.

Maria Thins empowers Vermeer to collect various debts owed to her and to reinvest the money according to his will and discretion. Vermeer's mother-on-law evidently maintained her moral and financial support of Vermeer and his family.

Another of Vermeer's children is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft.

dutch painting Gabriel Metsu, ecclectic Dutch painter, dies.
european painting & architecture

Francesco Borromini, Italian sculptor and architect, dies. Borromini designed the San Ivo della Sapienza church in Rome

Alonso Cano, Spanish painter and architect, dies.

music German composer-organist-harpsichordist Johann Jakob Froberger dies at Héricourt, France. His keyboard suites will be published in 1693, arranged in the order that will become standard: allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue.
literature

Paradise Lost is written by John Milton, who has been blind since 1652 but has dictated to his daughters the 10-volume work on the fall of man, Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. Milton's Adam questions the angel Raphael about celestial mechanics, Raphael replies with some vague hints and then says that "the rest from Man or Angel the great Architect did wisely conceal and not divulge His secrets to be scann'd by them who ought rather admire." The work enjoys sales of 1,300 copies in 18 months and will be enlarged to 12 volumes in 1684, the year of Milton's death; Annus Mirabilis by John Dryden is about the Dutch War and last year's Great Fire.

Nov 7, Jean Racine's Andromaque, premiered in Paris.

science & philosophy National Observatory, Paris, founded
history Pope Alexander VII dies. Giulio Rospigliosi becomes Pope Clement IX.

c. 1667 In France, during the reign of King Louis XIV, the fork begins to achieve popularity as an eating implement. Formerly, only knives and spoons had been used.

Jun 18, The Dutch fleet sailed up the Thames and threatened London. They burned 3 ships and capture the English flagship.

Jun 21, The Peace of Breda endsthe Second Anglo-Dutch War (1664-67) and sees the Dutch cede New Amsterdam (on Manhattan Island) to the English in exchange for the island of Surinam.

De Verstandige Kok (The Sensible Cook) is published for the first time. Geared towards middle- and upper middle-class families, the book advises a regular and balanced diet, including fresh meat at least once a week, frequent servings of bread and cheese, stew, fresh vegetables and salads. While simple dishes, such as porridge, pancakes and soup with bread are eaten by all classes, studies reveal that only the affluent have regular access to fresh vegetables during the period; the less wealthy depend on dried peas and beans.
Man in a Turban, Jan van Eyck

Man in a Turban
Jan van Eyck
1433
25,5 x 19 cm.
National Gallery, London

The appearance of the young girl's turban within the context of Vermeer's seemingly quintessential Dutch oeuvre should not come as a complete surprise. Other objects of "Turkish" origin may be associated with the painter. Some of the carpets which appear as table coverings in his interiors (contemporary painters rarely represented these precious imports lying on the ground) are of Turkish origin. They must have been appreciated for their evocative floral motifs and the large mass of warm red color which enlivened the otherwise geometrical and cold interiors.

However, we must not believe that anything called "Turkish" in contemporary accounts really came from that country. The term was loosely used to describe exotic imported objects which were much in vogue. In the inventory (29 February, 1676) taken shortly after the artist's death we find listed among other things: "a Turkish mantle of the aforesaid Sr. Vermeer," "a pair of Turkish trousers" and "a black Turkish mantle" all in the "great hallway" of his house. Some scholars have suggested that the two tronies in "Turkish dress" found in the kitchen could possibly have been by Vermeer's hand.

Vermeer's women are often associated with the pearls eleven of them wear, so much that his oeuvre itself has become synonymous with the pearl. In 1908, Jan Veth articulated a widespread sentiment while observing the Girl with a Pearl Earring: "More than with any other VERMEER one could say that it looks as if it were blended from the dust of crushed pearls." In the 17th century, pearls were probably an important status symbol.

Details of Johannes Vermeer's Art of Painting and Girl with a Pearl Earring

A careful consideration of the Girl with a Pearl Earring gives rise to the question of how far the painting is to be taken as a portrait. P. T. A. Swillens, who compiled the first exhaustive study of the artist's life and work in 1950, believed that one of the most important characteristics of a 17th-century portrait was its likeness and although we can no longer judge of this anymore, the face would not be called a beauty in an aesthetic sense. Swillens writes that Vermeer made no attempt to idealize her.

Contemporary scholars are not in agreement on the subject. According to Arthur Wheelock the painting is an "idealized study" which reveals Vermeer's "classical tendencies."

Not a single sitter in Vermeer's extant paintings has ever been identified, including the young girl in the Girl with a Pearl Earring. Many critics believe that she may have been Vermeer's first daughter, Maria who would have been about 12 or 13 years old in 1665-1667, the dating scholars have assigned to the painting. However, this painting was certainly not a portrait in the 17th-century sense of the term, but rather a tronie. In any case, she resembles the model in Vermeer's Art of Painting (see above).

The Girl with a Pearl Earring reemerged in the Netherlands 300 years after it left the artist's studio. Shortly after it was sold for next to nothing.

The history of the acquisition of the Vermeer has by now become legendary. Arnoldus Andries des Tombe purchased Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring in 1881 at a sale at the Venduhuis der Notarissen in the Nobelstraat in The Hague for 2 guilders with a 30 cent premium. Unfortunately, the invoice, which was given to the Mauritshuis in 1944, has disappeared without a trace. Thanks to a notice in the former daily newspaper Het Vaderland of 3 March 1903, in which the bequest was made public (pasted in the Mauritshuis' cuttings album), we know that Victor de Stuers had recognized the painting as a work by Vermeer. De Stuers was Des Tombe's neighbor—his collection in his residence at 24 Parkstraat was also open to all interested parties—and the two gentlemen had gone together to the auction preview. Des Tombe and De Stuers agreed not to bid against each other. After its acquisition, the badly neglected canvas was sent to Antwerp, where it was "restored" by the painter Van der Haeghen. In the Des Tombe family, however, the story was that Des Tombe and his friend De Stuers had seen a painting that "seemed rather beautiful but was too dirty to evaluate properly." In this version, it was only after the picture had been cleaned that the signature became visible, making clear the identity of the painter.

After Des Tombe's death on 16 December 1902 (his wife had died the year before and their marriage had remained childless) it turned out that he had secretly bequeathed 12 paintings to the Mauritshuis, including Vermeer's famous Girl with a Pearl Earring.

(from Quentin Buvelot, "COLLECTING HISTORY: ON DES TOMBE, DONOR OF VERMEER'S GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING" in the Mauritshuis Bulletin, volume 17, no. 1, March 2004)

The signature of Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring

The signature of the Girl with a Pearl Earring is located on the upper left corner. It was painted with a lighter toned pigment over the dark background but is usually not visible in reproductions. Vermeer used light toned signatures in other paintings as well. The style too, is comparable to other signatures by the artist. Although the pigments of the signature cannot be analyzed due to the abraded paint layer, the Mauritshuis, where the painting is now housed, has always maintained that it is authentic.

Beatrice Cenci, attributed to Guido Reni

Beatrice Cenci
attributed to Guido Reni
1599
64,5 x 49 cm.
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Roma

While the thematic and compositional origins of some of Vermeer's works have proven easy to identify, other of his works pose more problems. And it is hardly out of the question that such an uncomplicated motif as the Girl with a Pearl Earring could have been devised independently.

Nonetheless, Vermeer scholars have proposed a wide variety of Dutch and foreign models including, traditionally, the Beatrice Cenci by the Italian painter Guido Reni.* While such a connection may appear far fetched, Vermeer certainly knew the Beatrice Cenci story which had captured Europe's collective imagination. He could have easily seen one of the many copies of Reni's original or engravings which circulated throughout Europe.

Beatrice, the daughter of the rich and powerful Francesco Cenci, suffered from her father's mistreatment. Violent and dissolute, he imprisoned Beatrice and her stepmother in the Castle of Petrella Salto, near Rieti. With the blessing of her stepmother and two brothers, all of whom shared her exasperation at his continued abuse, Beatrice murdered her father in 1598. She was apprehended and, after a trial that riveted the attention of the citizens of Rome, condemned to death at the order of Pope Clement VIII, who may have been motivated by the hope of confiscating the assets of the family. In the presence of an enormous crowd, Beatrice was decapitated in the Ponte Sant'Angelo in September of 1599, instantly becoming a symbol of innocence oppressed.

It has been hypothesized that the great Italian painter Caravaggio was present at the decapitation and was inspired to paint his Judith Cutting off the Head of Holofernes. The precise and realistic rendering of Caravaggio's scene, anatomically and physiologically correct to the minutest details, presupposes the artist's observation of a real decapitation.

The influential Vermeer writer Lawrence Gowing had proposed the influence of Jan Scorel's female portraits. The Scorel and Reni influences have been largely set aside in favor of somewhat less exotic connections with the Dutch painter Michiel Sweerts.

* While the Beatrice Cenci is traditionally attributed to Reni, its poor quality in comparison to other works of the master has led many critics to reject it as an autograph work. Instead, it could be by a painter in the immediate circle of Reni, possibly Elisabetta Sirani, who is known for rendering the master's models in abbreviated and reduced form.

Portrait of Maria Louisa de Tassis,  Anthony van Dyck

Portrait of Maria Louisa de Tassis (detail)
Anthony van Dyck
c. 1629/30
129 x 93 cm.
Grand Ducal Collection, Vaduz, Liechtenstein

As art historian Robert Baldwin pointed out, there existed a "tradition of comparing beautiful women to jewels. In court culture, the beautiful woman took on a jewel-like preciousness and radiance which worked, ultimately, to represent an inner beauty beyond material splendor. (This is how jewels had long worked in Christian representations of the sacred, their richness and luminosity pointing to a celestial beauty.). In European court poetry, the lady was either described as jewel-like or said to surpass the beauty of all jewels."

However, "Vermeer also went beyond a suspect material beauty by avoiding the extensive use of jewels seen in courtly portraits and representations of artists like Van Dyck and Mignard and by restricting himself to the simpler pearl, avoiding rubies, sapphires, and diamonds. More importantly, Vermeer painted everything with a cool, silvery palette and layered, translucent oil glazes, dissolving all material reality with a pearl-like luminosity. Visualised this way, Vermeer's beautiful women, ornamented with pearls, took on the familiar, pearl-like beauty of contemporary love lyrics where outer loveliness dissolved into an inner radiance."

Portrait of the Artist's Wife, Cunera van der Cock, Frans van Mieris the Elder

Portrait of the Artist's Wife, Cunera van der Cock
Frans van Mieris the Elder
c. 1657-8
16 x 13.3 cm.
National Gallery, London

Although this portrait by fijnschilder (fine painter) Frans van Mieris has been linked with the Girl with a Pearl Earring, few works document so well how fundamentally diverse were their artistic means and goals. It is true that Vermeer did share with the fijnschilders a common reservoir of motifs but it would be hard to enlist him as a true believer in their exasperated technical approach. Nor had the fijnschilders ever displayed the detached interest in the activities of light or the intricacies of pictorial design which are hallmarks of Vermeer's art.

As detailed as Vermeer's works may appear to the relaxed eye of the 21st-century viewer, the broadness of his painting technique contrasts with the microscopic rendering of detail which was the principal calling card of this school. His modeling is so generalized that the fabric of the girl's yellow garment has never been satisfactorily identified. Instead, the individual hairs of the fur trim in Van Mieris' composition (see detail below) have been rendered one by one to assure recognition keeping in mind that Van Mieris' work is much smaller than Vermeer's. While such microscopic rendering induces the viewer to draw as close as possible to admire the work detail by detail, the Vermeer's more essential approach suggests the viewer to step back and relate to the image as a whole.

Portrait of the Artist's Wife, Cunera, Frans van Mieris the Elder

Portrait of the Artist's Wife, Cunera
van der Cock
(detail)
Frans van Mieris the Elder
c. 1657-8
16 x 13.3 cm.
National Gallery, London

The fijnschilder mode had reached such extremes because pupils were forever trying to outdo their masters in producing the most convincing illusion of surface textures. Art historian Peter Hecht argued that the thematic motifs were designed to show off textural imitation or emulative awareness of one's predecessors and peers.

Curiously, the fijnschilder school evolved in the very years when the Dutch art market had begun contract due to a significant downturn in the nation's economic conditions. The once bustling art market was not only flooded with low-priced paintings by living artists but with works of previous generations slowly working their way back into the market as their original purchasers passed away. Instead of devising new tactics to abbreviate production time and beat competition, the fijnschilder took the opposite and spent unprecedented time on each work. In fact, they targeted the tastes and pockets of the uppermost burgers whose well hood had not been adversely effected by the economic crisis but, on the contrary, had prospered as never before.

Thus, it may not be unreasonable that the essential "simplicity" and sobriety of Vermeer's technique might not have been fully appreciated admist the dominant fijnschilder tastes of the day. While it is true that Vermeer's art was recognized among elite connoisseurs, he had gained neither the international reputation nor the prices of his competitors.

Given its present iconic status, it may come as a surprise that the Girl with a Pearl Earring was uncovered only in 1881 after it disappeared for some 200 years. While it is true that Vermeer's name had been largely forgotten by mainstream art history, some of his flagship works had held their own in important European art collections even if a few had been attributed to other painters to augment their value.

In the 17th century, a work of art work was seen through different eyes than today. First of all, the Girl with a Pearl Earring was not seen as a portrait but a tronie, a sort of characteristic bust-length figure whose ability to capture the purchaser's eye, rather than the sitter's identity, was the artist's main concern. Tronies were made for the open market and sold in great numbers at low prices. As odd as it may seem, a painting's worth was often determined not only by its beauty or by its author's reputation. The hierarchical importance of subject matter was held in great consideration and a tronie such as the Girl with a Pearl Earring was definitely on the lower rungs of the ladder not too distant from landscape and the lowest of all categories, still life.

This mind set may be reflected in the relatively low price the Girl with a Pearl Earring may have fetched in the 1696 Amsterdam auction of 21 Vermeer paintings. Some scholars conjecture that it corresponds to "a tronie in antique dress, uncommonly artful" sold at 46 guilders, a trifle if compared to the equally-sized Milkmaid or the Woman Holding a Balance which earned 175 and 155 guilders respectively. However, is not out of the question that it was another tronie sold in the same auction for only 17 guilders. Johan Larson, a Hague/London sculptor was known to have had another Vermeer tronie valued at only 10 guilders. In deference to the category, a Rembrandt tronie was sold for a mere 7 guilders in the same sale as the two Vermeer's.

The Young Mother, Gerrit Dou

The Young Mother
Gerrit Dou
1658
73.5 x 55.5 cm.
Mauritshuis, The Hague

How were the prices of paintings determined in Vermeer's time? There exists a number of period documents which testify that the price of painting was directly correlated to labor hours spent. Gerrit Dou and Frans van Mieris could demand from 5 to 6 guilder per hours for their fine paintings, which are comparable in style and motif to Vermeer's more elaborate interiors. Dou, who was as scrupulous an accountant as a painter technician, daily noted the exact number of hours he devoted to a painting in order to determine is market value.

But Dou and Van Mieris were hardly the norm. They represent the absolute high end of the art market in Europe. Dou once received the astronomical sum of 4,000 guilders from the States of Holland for the Young Mother (see image left) while Van Mieris was paid 2,500 by Cosimo III of the Medici family for a Family Concert. Even the successful landscape painter Jan van Goyen is known to have charged approximately from 8 to 10 guilders a work day. A small painting, which he could easily make in a single day, might go for 10 guilders while a large one for 60 guilders. It would appear that only Rembrandt attempted, and not always successfully, to establish the value of a painting by its artistic merit and his international reputation rather than the hours of labor spent. Although judged outlandish by the inquirer, the highest price associated with a Vermeer painting in the artist's lifetime was 600 guilders.