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Johannes Vermeer Girl with a Pearl Earring, c.1665

A young woman with her head in turban like hat wearing a large round shaped jewel made from the mantle of a sea mollusk

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The painting 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' is one of Vermeer's Masterworks and as the name implies, uses a pearl earring for a focal point. The painting is in The Mauritshuis in The Hague. A careful consideration gives rise to the question of how far the painting is to be taken as a portrait. Scholars are not in agreement on the subject. P.T.A.Swillens, who compiled the first exhaustive study of the artist's life and work in 1950, believed that one of the most important characteristics of a 17th-century portrait was its likeness. According to Arthur Wheelock the painting is an "idealized study" which reveals Vermeer's "classical tendencies." Walter Liedtke sees in Vermeer's work "the restrained emotion and contemplation having nothing to do with Poussin or Neo-platonic concepts, but were, more simply, consistent with the local artistic tradition and character of Delft." Not a single sitter in Vermeer's paintings has ever been identified, including this young girl. Many believe that she may have been Vermeer's first daughter, Maria who would have been about 12 or 13 years old in 1665. However, this painting was probably not a portrait, but rather a "tronie" - the 17th-century Dutch description of a ’head’ that was not meant to be an exact portrait.

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