Get to know Johannes Vermeer

Get to know Johannes Vermeer

The Girl with the Pearl

Vermeer is known nowadays as one of the most famous Dutch artists who ever lived; his painting ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ is one of the world’s most copied and discussed artworks (second only to the ‘Mona Lisa)’. The painting has been immortalised in a film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth, and referenced in novels. Our fascination with the painting is perhaps due to its mystery. Unlike the Mona Lisa, we do not know the identity of the sitter. She is in fact a ‘tronie’, a genre of painting popular in Dutch 17th Century art, which depict an anonymous sitter often with an exaggerated expression or unusual costume. Discover what makes this painting so special in our film presented by Sienna. 

Did You Know?

It may surprise you to learn that Vermeer did not enjoy such fame when he was alive. In fact, he is barely mentioned among Dutch artists of the day; he died aged 43 heavily in debt. What makes Vermeer’s style seem so fresh and pleasing to a modern audience is its similarity to photography. Vermeer used an early version of the camera to create his scenes of domestic life, known as the camera obscura, which was a relatively new invention. Using a lens and a darkened box or tent, a scene could be projected onto a wall, or in Vermeer’s case a canvas. This is why many of the figures appear enlarged and the composition is cropped, like a photograph.

Vermeer at The Rijksmuseum

It is estimated that Pablo Picasso created over 13,500 paintings in his lifetime, whilst Vincent van Gogh created 900 in the space of merely 10 years. However there are only about 35 paintings by Vermeer which have survived; it is thought that Vermeer painted no more than 60 artworks during his lifetime. 28 of these rare paintings are to be displayed together for the first time in an upcoming exhibition at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Paintings are being loaned from collections all across the world. To replace the original work ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, Mauritshuis, The Hague, is asking the public for their recreations of the work to hang in a digital frame where the painting is usually displayed: our favourite has to be the corn on the cob version!

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