Most people will recognise the above picture as one of Vermeer’s most famous works: Girl with the Pearl Earring. To be honest, my love of his paintings started when I saw the movie based off this work (Who wants to see Scarlett Johansson with no eyebrows?). I found myself captivated by the idea of the story behind the picture and as I looked more into Vermeer’s work I discovered that each one has a tale to tell.
For those wanting a bit of history, Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter who lived in Delft between 1632 and 1675. He had a mostly well off life with his wife and 11 children who he supported by selling paintings and art dealing.
Many of Vermeer’s paintings focus on young women and the temptations that could make them commit sins. One theme in his work is women drinking wine. At the time a woman who were intoxicated were considered an ’embodiment of sin’ because she could be easily seduced by men. Pictures behind the subjects and imagery in the stained glass hinted at these temptations.
Another theme is the ‘mysterious lover’ where women are shown reading or receiving secret love letters as well as unattended objects (e.g musical instruments) that suggest someone else was previously in the room. There are other paintings that also relate to the sins of vanity and sloth. I like learning about all the different symbols that artists use in their work to make us look deeper and decipher their true meaning.
I admire Vermeer’s work for two main reasons – 1) His use of colour and 2) His reuse of settings and props. As someone who loves lots of colour, the first point is pretty self-explanatory. He’s particularly noted for his use of yellow and blue that feature often in his work. The latter point requires inspecting the details in the paintings. If you look closely, you can see that Vermeer often reused settings and props. These include the rooms (look at the tiles on the floor), clothing (pearl necklaces & earrings, coats), and pictures hung on the back walls.
I guess there’s something quite ‘simple’ in his work that I appreciate, they aren’t the large religious story depictions or the strong political imagery we often expect from other painted masterpieces. They solely feature life in the home and are a great depiction of middle class life in the Netherlands in the 17th Century .