Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring
May 1, 2020
Scientific research of the world-famous painting by Johannes Vermeer, known as Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665), has yielded new discoveries and insights. The multidisciplinary examination has brought the international team of scientists much closer to the painting than ever before. Discoveries were made about Vermeer’s brushwork, the use of pigments, and how he 'built up' his painting in different layers. The research – which involved non-invasive imaging and scanning techniques, digital microscopy and paint sample analyses – was carried out in 2018 under the name The Girl in the Spotlight.
On 28 April 2020 the Mauritshuis (The Hague) unveiled a web page to announce new insights. Following an introduction by museum director Martine Gosselink, three researchers involved in the project presented their findings online.
The major discoveries were:
The girl was originally painted before a green curtain in the righthand side of the painting, which dramatically changes the black void she appears in now.
Vermeer’s signature can be discerned in the top left hand corner of the painting.
The girl has eyelashes, which makes her more personal.
The earring has no discernible hook and the lead white pigment used to create the world-famous earring was mined from the UK’s Peak District. Lead white was also used in other significant areas of the painting including her face and collar.
Fine hairs from Vermeer’s brushes have been discovered embedded in the painting on the Girl’s face.
The Girl in the Spotlight
In February and March 2018, an international team of scientists and conservators undertook a technical examination of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring using state-of-the-art methods and techniques. For a period of two weeks, the public could follow the Girl in the Spotlight research being carried out in a glass studio in the Mauritshuis. The overarching research question was: how did Vermeer paint this iconic artwork, and which materials did he use to do so?
The research team was led by Mauritshuis paintings conservator Abbie Vandivere. The Girl in the Spotlight was a Mauritshuis initiative and involved a team of internationally recognised specialists associated with the Netherlands Institute for Conservation+Art+Science+ (NICAS: Rijksmuseum, TU Delft, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) and the University of Amsterdam), together with the University of Antwerp, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam, Hirox Europe, the National Gallery of Art, Washington and many other partners.