My mother did not tell me they were coming. Afterwards she said she did not want me to appear nervous. I was surprised, for I thought she knew me well.
The very first time I saw the cover of Girl with a Pearl Earring, I was truly mesmerized and intrigued by the look in the girl’s face. I did some digging later, and found out is an actual painting by Johannes Vermeer, 17th century Dutch artist and dealer. Being a bit of a history buff and a lover of art, I was not going to pass out on reading this book, although it had to stay on my wish list for a while before I actually went ahead and bought the book.
In this Ted Talk Tracy Chevalier tells us about how she made up a back story for this painting, which would later become the keystone of her novel. Griet was sixteen when she gets sent to be a maid in the Vermeer household due to unfortunate circumstances at home. Doing laundry and cleaning Vermeer’s studio are Griet’s main tasks, however Griet has to face many hardships within the Vermeer household itself, with no allies so to speak of except Johannes’ mother-in-law Maria Thins and Johannes himself. So the studio becomes the place where Griet seeks solace.
As the story goes on, we realize Johannes Vermeer is a slow painter. He would paint two-three painting a year at most, which is hardly enough feed an ever-growing family (by the time Griet entered the household, Johannes and his wife, Catharina had five children and one on the way). When Van Ruijven, a married patron and a lecher, who has commissioned several of Johannes’ paintings asks to sit for one with Griet, what would happen? Johannes can not afford to turn down Van’s request for his wrath would put his family in jeopardy, but at the same time Johannes cares for Griet. This conundrum gives birth to the painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring”.
He saw things in a way that others did not, so that a city I had lived in all my life seemed a different place, so that a woman became beautiful with the light on her face.
Girl with a Pearl Earring is an astounding novel because it also brings into life other paintings of Johannes Vermeer, the ultimate enigma. Among the other paintings which appear in this novel, “The View of Delft” is my favorite.
Having read Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier, I must add that I do not think Girl with a Pearl Earring is her best. Yet, if not for this novel, or the subsequent movie, most of us would not have stumbled upon Girl with a Pearl Earring painting, which is often referred to as “Mona Lisa of the North”. And for that, I am grateful to Tracy Chevalier! 🙂