Why Is “Girl With the Pearl Earring” So Famous?

If you’ve ever taken an art history class, or probably even if you haven’t, you’ll recognize Vermeer’s “Girl With the Pearl Earring.” Sure, we can all agree that the artist is talented and has an eye for detail, but doesn’t the painting seem to be lacking some sort of context? What’s with the black background anyway? Vermeer has hundreds of more detailed paintings depicting everyday life for the Dutch, so why is this one his most famous piece?

Part of the fame of “Girl With the Pearl Earring” does stem from the fact that it’s different from Vermeer’s other work. As you can see in the picture above, he usually uses perspective and lighting to give a distance to his paintings. His other works show regular people doing everyday things, in their homes. The distance and use of lines give us, the viewer, the impression that we are simply here to observe, that this moment doesn’t involve us.

However, in “Girl With the Pearl Earring,” we, the viewers, are very much involved in this moment. The subject is looking right at us, her lips parted as if to say something. The black background only further enhances the woman and draws our eyes to the lighting and details on her face.

Another interesting thing to note is the time period and location of this painting. In the 17th century, people in the Netherlands were very opposed to a ruling class. They were much more open to self-government. This is important to note because, for most of the world, the only people to have their portraits painted were nobility. But, “Girl With the Pearl Earring” was just that… an unknown girl.

A final point of interest in this painting is the pearl itself. Upon close inspection, one can see that there are really only two strokes of paint that make up the pearl itself. Critics have said this represents the idea of wealth and status being nothing but a grand illusion.

Find out more about the famous “Girl With the Pearl Earring” painting in the video below!

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