There is no doubt that the Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johaness Vermeer is a masterpiece, but is it a portrait as some suggest? The majority of critics believe that the artwork is a tronie , or a study of a facial expression. The painting also intrigues art critics who wonder if the painter relied upon camera obscura , a novel technique used to manipulate the effects of light and darkness. Reviewers who stare at the intense composition of the painting are drawn to its use of color and light and the realistic nature of the girl's facial features.
These ideas, the subject of an all-day symposium at the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University last spring, are admittedly speculations. Yet no one has previously sought to identify the models in these paintings in a systematic way, account for the misfit paintings, or explain Vermeer’s painting-by-painting development. These factors are inextricably linked in the ongoing process of understanding Vermeer’s work, including Girl With a Pearl Earring and might ultimately lead to the discovery of another unrecognized genius.
Leader of the Delft School of Dutch Baroque art and one of the most consistent Dutch Realist artists of the mid/late 17th-Century, Vermeer is primarily noted for his domestic interiors, lit by a window on the left, and typically containing a girl or young woman engaged in some relatively unimportant task: see for instance, Woman with a Pearl Necklace (1662-64, Gemaldegalerie SMPK, Berlin). These pictures are characterized by yellow, blue and grey colour pigments , a cool light, a beautifully serene sense of balance, order and - above all - intimacy.