New Discoveries and Insights from the Examination of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring

Two years ago, an international team of scientists from various museums and institutions examined Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in full public view. Now, two years later, the Mauritshuis releases the results of The Girl in the Spotlight research project. The team made discoveries about Vermeer’s brushwork, his use of pigments, and the way that he ‘built up’ this painting using different layers. The results of The Girl in the Spotlight research project – which used non-invasive imaging and scanning techniques, digital microscopy and paint sample analysis – offers a glimpse of a much more ‘personal’ painting than previously thought.

One of the most surprising findings was that the background is not simply an empty dark space; Vermeer painted the Girl in front of a green curtain. Imaging techniques visualized diagonal lines and color variations that suggest folded fabric in the upper right-hand corner of the painting. The curtain has disappeared over the course of the centuries as a result of physical and chemical changes in the translucent green paint.

Left: photo of the Girl’s right eye: 140x magnification [photo: Hirox Europe, Jyfel].
Right: the macro-X-ray fluorescence map for iron shows that Vermeer painted eyelashes using a brown paint. The tip of the eyelash is barely visible against the discolored dark background. [Photo: Annelies van Loon: Mauritshuis/Rijksmuseum].

While to the naked eye the Girl has always appeared to have had no eyelashes, macro-X-ray fluorescence scanning and microscopic examination also revealed that Vermeer painted tiny hairs around both eyes. These discoveries make the Girl more ‘personal’ than previously thought, but the question of who exactly the Girl was still remains a mystery.

All results of The Girl in the Spotlight research project are available in the on the Mauritshuis website.