Scarlett Johansson as Griet and Colin Firth as Johannes Vermeer in the movie ‘Girl with Pearl Earring’.

The sensual look unravelled

As a nineteen year old she saw the painting for the first time. She bought a poster and hung it over the bed. It is still hanging there. Tracy Chevalier is fascinated by the work of Johannes Vermeer, especially by his most famous painting: Girl with a Pearl Earring from about 1666.

According to Chevalier most people don't look the right way when visiting a museum. They think they should admire all those paintings , so instead they get bored right away. What they should do is single out one or two paintings and make their own story with it.

The beauty about Johannes Vermeer is that we know hardly anything about him. None of his models has ever been traced.

And so Chevalier' s imagination set to work. The way the girl in the painging is looking over her shoulder, her sensual mouth slightly open, makes one wonder: how was the relationship between painter and model? How do they connect if such a portrait is possible?

The result is an intriguing novel about a sixteen-year old maid-servant who at first assists the painter in pulverizing colours, next becomes his model and eventually is dismissed by the jealous mistress of the house. How a 17-th century painter worked is illustrated in a fascinating way. The maid Griet though remains an unrealistic character: far too sensible. (HG)


Tracy Chevalier




Trivia: Film version available, Peter Webber, 2003.



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