Vermeer’s Mystery Muse

The 2004 film Girl With a Pearl Earring explored the creation of the famous portrait masterpiece by 17th century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. I really enjoyed the film, and thought the casting of Scarlett Johanson as the housemaid “Griet” was a great choice. British actor Colin Firth portrayed Vermeer. But the truth is that we really don’t know who the sitter was for this celebrated work. And it’s unlikely we ever will. So much of Vermeer’s own life is unknown and shrouded in mystery. He spent his entire adulthood in the city of Delft in the Netherlands and was only a moderately successful painter during his lifetime. When he died, he left his wife and eleven children in serious financial debt.

As a huge fan of historical and biographical movies (love them!), the factual inaccuracies (uncertainties, really) of Girl With a Pearl Earring did not hinder my enjoyment of the film. Nor did it with Amadeus or Pollock and a few others. (Heard a rumor that Al Pacino is planning to star in a biopic of Salvador Dali. I hope that’s true because I’d love to see that!)

So as to the identity of the young lady, there are three possibilities – and they could ALL be wrong. But the choices are that she is either Vermeer’s eldest daughter Maria, or the daughter of his wealthy patron Pieter Van Ruijven, or, as the movie suggests, the Vermeers’ young maid Griet. Of course it is all speculation, and art historians have been grappling with this conundrum for years. You can find an excellent discussion on all this at: Girl With a Pearl Earring, Who Posed?

This is Girl With a Pearl Earring, often referred to as “the Dutch Mona Lisa”, from 1665. To see the real thing, you’ll have to go to the Mauritshuis Museum in the Hague:

Amazing. What a gaze. Looking over her shoulder. And with parted lips which is not typically seen in portraits. The painting itself is as inscrutable as its backstory. Very fitting.

This is a great opportunity to start the first-ever Museworthy poll! So, who was the sitter for Girl With a Pearl Earring?? Hey, I trust the opinions of my astute readers more than any art academic, that’s for sure. You guys are the greatest. But I suppose I should start the voting and throw in my two cents. I will say that it is NOT Vermeer’s daughter, only because it really looks like a commissioned portrait, doesn’t it? Unless Vermeer commissioned himself, it isn’t Maria. Now wasn’t that just the most brilliant analysis? 😉

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