Head researcher Abbie Vandivere examines Girl with a Pearl Earring. Photo: Ivo Hoekstra – Mauritshuis

New discoveries and insights about Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer's masterpiece 

 

Tuesday 28 April

In in the early months of 2018, an international team of scientists and conservators undertook a technical examination of Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer’s famous 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' painting 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 in The Hague.

The overarching research question was: how did Vermeer paint this iconic artwork, and which materials did he use to do so? Scientific research of the world-famous painting has yielded new discoveries and insights. The multidisciplinary examination has brought the international team of scientists much closer to the painting than ever before.

Scientific research of the world-famous painting has yielded new discoveries and insights. The multidisciplinary examination has brought the international team of scientists much closer to the painting than ever before.

Composite image of Girl with a Pearl Earring from images made during the Girl in the Spotlight project. Picture: Sylvain Fleur and the Girl in the Spotlight team

Discoveries were made about Vermeer’s brushwork, the use of pigments, and how he 'built up' his painting in different layers back in 1665. 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. 

Today the Mauritshuis unveiled a web page to announce new insights and following an introduction by museum director Martine Gosselink while the three researchers involved in the project presented their findings online... see www.mauritshuis.nl/en/girlinthespotlight

The major discoveries were:

1 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.

2 Vermeer’s signature can be discerned in the top left hand corner of the painting.

3 The girl has eyelashes, which makes her more personal.

4 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.

5 Fine hairs from Vermeer’s brushes have been discovered embedded in the painting on the Girl’s face.