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Lecture: Dutch artist Johannes: Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in an art history class. Professor: My topic today is a small oil painting by the 17th century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring. It's signed by the artist but not dated. It's probably the most reproduced of all of Vermeer's work. At first, this looks like a portrait, but technically, it's not. It belongs to a category known in Dutch as a tronie. Tronie is a category that's familiar to scholars from many examples by other 17th century Dutch masters. The subjects of tronies were not intended to be recognized as individuals, but as interesting characters or archetypes such as the dashing soldier or the wise teacher. Tronies were usually depicted with just a head and shoulders, whereas portraits were normally half length or full length. And they were much more formally composed. As you can see the girl is wearing a yellow garment and a blue and yellow turban. Her earring, a tear-dropped piece of glass, has been varnished to look like a gigantic pearl and she's turning to look over her left shoulder. John: It's almost like a snapshot. I mean, not a formal photo. But ... Professor: Interesting observation, John. It does seem spontaneous. But there's actually painstaking class on display here. Notice the way her head is lit with a highlight on the front of the turban and a reflective light that bounces up from her collar, softly lighting the jaw from below. This lighting scheme echoed in the earring. Her lips are slightly opened, making it possible for the artist to create the most remarkable detail of all. On the left, a narrow stream of light passes between her lips and strikes the opposite corner of her mouth as a little point of light and then stands out and spreads across her cheek. This shows Vermeer's powerful observation of optical effects and his amazing ability to translate that observation into paint. Another point I want to make is something about the girl is elusive somehow. Now, why is that? John: Well, maybe because there aren't any walls or furniture telling us where the girl is, or her social status, or when she lived. Professor: Exactly, no setting, no prompt, no specifics in her costume, not even a hairstyle, so she doesn't belong to any particular time or place. I think this elusive, this enigmatic quality is responsible, in part, for the painting's popularity. Female Student: It reminds of what people say about the Mona Lisa. Professor: Right, the great Italian Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci also created a sense of mystery with Mona Lisa's hard to interpret smile. You know, a few years ago, a computer analysis was done on Mona Lisa's face using software that evaluates facial expression and I believe it found that she was happy, disgusted, fearful, and angry all at once. Anyway, getting back to our topic. It's no coincidence that Girl with a Pearl Earring has captured the imagination of contemporary writers. Have any of you read the bestselling novel called Girl with a Pearl Earring? Or seen the movie adaptation of it? There's also an opera, partially based on this painting. Well, all of these contemporary works try to supply missing facts to complete our understanding of this image, but despite the painting's elusive quality, the girl's features are quite specific. So it's unlikely that she's imaginary. Female Student: I heard she was Vermeer's oldest child. Professor: Yes, an interesting theory. Vermeer and his wife had many children. The eldest, Maria, was probably born in 1654 and Girl with a Pearl Earring bears a striking resemblance to a girl in another Vermeer painting, also undated. The two leading experts on Vermeer's art close to agreeing that Pearl Earring was painted when Maria would've been between 10 and 12. The same scholars believe the other painting was made a year later but keep in mind that these dates are based solely on the expert's opinion of where these paintings fit into the development of Vermeer's style. And mind you, the style of these paintings could fit just as well into when Maria was a couple of years older. But how does any of this prove that the girl pictured was Maria? After Vermeer's death, his wife had to sell his artwork to pay bills. But she tried to keep the other paintings I just referred to in her family. I suspect it was because it included an image of one of her children.