The piece of artwork I chose is the Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer. This piece of artwork is an oil painting on canvas. Upon first glance, it is a simple painting, “it is actually known as a tronie. Popular during the Dutch Golden Age, a tronie is a painting of an individual intended as a study.
Often, artists opted to portray these figures in “exotic” garments, as rendering opulent fabric allowed them to show off their advanced painting techniques.” (“The History of the Girl with the Pearl Earring”). These types of paintings, or at least the ones Vermeer did, usually depicted their subjects doing common chores, so having her look over her shoulder was a stark contrast to other paintings of its kind.
The background is a solid black and the only other figure in the painting is a young woman looking over her shoulder. She appears to be in her late teens, leaning to her early twenties. She has very pale, even skin. She also has piercing blue, almost grey, eyes. She has no eyebrows, nor any visible eyelashes. There is no blush to her face, and the only indication of a cheek bone is the shadow that runs along it.
She has very pink lips and an enigmatic look to her face. Sometimes it is a curious face, questioning its viewer, while other times it looks like she is about to speak. She is wearing what appears to be a green jacket with a high collar and white accents. Also, she is wearing a yellow headscarf that is blue in the front and a very light blue/white at the bottom. A rather large pearl earring is dangling from the only ear that is visible in the painting.
Color in Girl with the Pearl Earring is very important. The background is entirely black to emphasize the female Vermeer painted, “Girl with a Pearl Earring represents a young woman in a dark shallow space, an intimate setting that draws the viewer’s attention exclusively on her.” ( Zelazko, “Girl with a Pearl Earring). Even within the face, Vermeer uses color to show contrast by making her lips very pink. The color of her lips is a stark contrast from her pale, colorless face and almost equally as colorless eyes. Her and her clothing are the only things in the painting to have color.
Not only that, but the main colors (yellow, blue, green) are analogous and create a very pleasing color scheme. Even though the colors seem vibrant against the all black background, they are very muted and soft, almost pastel at some points. Also, colored fabrics were very expensive in the 17th century (when this was painted) so the color of the fabrics combined with the exotic nature of the clothing can lead one to believe that she was wealthy.
I looked into the meanings of the colors used in the painting, and many sources do agree that blue, especially light blues, signify purity and innocence. In the renaissance, and middle ages, the Virgin Mary is depicted in blue clothing. The girl in the painting has very angelic and almost naïve features, so juxtaposing the blue fabric with the scarf to her face might have been a way to illustrate the innocence and beauty of her features.
Vermeer also uses color to create texture. The darker hues of green and blue create the wrinkles in her dress and scarf. Shadows help define help define her facial features. Even with these techniques for creating texture, the painting itself looks rather smooth, and the scarf looks realistic.
Light is also an important element of Girl with a Pearl Earring. Light was used to show Vermeer’s expertise when it came to painting. For instance, his use of light is the reason why the woman portrayed in his painting appeared so angelic, “The soft modeling of the subject’s face reveals his mastery of using light rather than line to create form, while the reflection on her lips and on the earring show his concern for representing the effect of light on different surfaces.” (Zelazko). He also used light to give his paintings more luminosity. He used a very rigorous technique in order to create light in his paintings, but when he wanted to add extra luminosity he added a gloss. (The History of the Girl with the Pearl Earring).
The painting is a chiaroscuro, meaning that light is unevenly illuminating a painting or photograph. Most of the light is concentrated on the front of her body, and a very visible shadow-emphasized by darker greens and blues- is on the rest of her body.