Oct 2021

Nicknamed the “Mona Lisa of the North,” it has come to rival Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa masterpiece in terms of exposure. In 1999, American author Tracy Chevalier published her book Girl with a Pearl Earring, a novel directly inspired by Vermeer’s most famous work. The book sold over five million copies worldwide and was adapted for the big screen for the movie starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth.

The painting has inspired a bestselling book, a critically acclaimed film, the cover of many art books, cushions, coasters, T-shirts, bags, socks, and now The Monnaie de Paris pays tribute to The Girl with a Pearl Earring with a ¼ Oz Gold Coin and ½ KG Silver coin.

So What’s so fascinating about Girl with a Pearl Earring?

Art experts will talk about qualities that make Girl with a Pearl Earring so seductive. It is very beautiful, for one thing. The striking blue and yellow of the Girl’s headscarf, set against a black background, the glistening pearl created in a few swift strokes, the expert capturing of light and shade on her luminous skin, the liquid pools of her eyes: all add up to a work of beauty.

But we think there is more to it than just artistic excellence, and it has to do with intrigue. One of the best-loved paintings in the world is a mystery. Who is the model, and why has she been painted? What is she thinking as she stares out at us? Are her wide eyes and enigmatic half-smile innocent or seductive? And why is she wearing a pearl earring?

This painting wasn’t always so well-known. We don’t know all that much about it. Who was it painted for? Who was the Girl? What was the relationship is between the Girl wearing the pearl earring and the painter. 

We do know it was completed in 1665-66, and it ended up in Vermeer’s patron’s collection. It was sold and then lost until it resurfaced 200 years later. It was bought for 2 guilders, and then the buyer discovered it was a Vermeer once it had been cleaned. On the collector’s death in 1902, it was donated to the Mauritshuis in The Hague, where it has been on display ever since. Now, of course, it is priceless; the Mauritshuis would never sell it.