New research reveals more of the 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'

The Hague (AFP) –


Scientific investigation of Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring", one of the most famous paintings in the world, has revealed elements that make her more "personal" even if her identity remains a mystery.

The Mauritshuis art museum, where the painting is housed, announced on Tuesday that the examination, the first on this Dutch masterpiece since 1994, had revealed the presence of tiny eyelashes around the eyes of the girl, invisible to the naked eye.

Research also established the existence of a green curtain in the seemingly empty background of the painting dating from 1665, a sort of "folded fabric" that has faded to black over the centuries.

Researchers and art lovers around the world have long been fascinated by the Dutch master's painting of this young woman with an enigmatic look, wearing a blue and yellow turban, a heavy pearl hanging from her ear.

It has inspired further artworks, notably Tracy Chevalier's novel "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" which gave rise to a film in 2003 starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth.

"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," The Hague's Mauritshuis said.

The review, conducted by an international team of scientists from February 2018, shed new light on the use of pigments and how Vermeer developed his work using different layers.

The grand master, for example, modified the composition of the painting, shifting the position of the ear, the top of the scarf and the nape of the neck.

He also used raw materials from around the world, including the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli from Afghanistan to make ultramarine which was "more precious than gold" in the 17th century.

The pearl itself is an "illusion", says the Mauritshuis, made up of "translucent and opaque touches of white paint", while the hook is missing.

The examination did not, however, identify the girl, or establish whether she really existed or if she is the product of the imagination of Johannes Vermeer.

"The girl hasn't revealed the secret of her identity yet but we got to know her a little better," said museum director Martine Gosselink.

"This is not the end point of our research."