The Girl with the Pearl Earring


Here’s another random post about a book I read and wrote about last semester! ENJOY. :b


In Tracy Chevalier’s The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Vermeer has a clear fascination with Griet which he shows from his initial interest in her and the way she organized the vegetables.  “‘I see you have separated the whites,’ he said, indicating the turnips and onions.  ‘And then the orange and the purple, they do not sit together.  Why is that?’  He picked up a shred of cabbage and a piece of carrot and shook them like dice in his hand” (5).  Vemeer could tell by the way she acted and carried herself that she had an appreciation for beauty and art, and was clearly interested in perfection.  By asking her the questions about the vegetables he was testing her to see if she was merely playing a game or if her intentions went deeper than just putting the food in a childish pattern.  He knew that she would affect his artwork which was why he always kept her close to him, and always found a way to protect her when Catharina or Cornelia tried to find a way to get her in trouble which could lead to her being dismissed or make her want to quit.  He brought her into his studio where no other family members were allowed; none of the other women of his life except Maria Thins and Griet could see the way he worked and his artistic process.  The two were very similar in the sense that they were strong women who spoke their minds and would not be submissive to his presence.  Griet was able to show her authority the first day at the house by slapping Cornelia which shaped her presence for the remainder of her time there.  Catharina always showed her inferiority and lack of understanding of artwork to her husband while Maria Thins and Griet embraced it even if they were not artists themselves; they had a mind for the trade and were able to contribute each in their own way.  Catharina had nothing to offer her husband aside from giving him more children.  Meanwhile, Griet and Maria Thins both gave Vermeer their opinions about the paintings and what they thought it needed which is something Catharina would never have dared to do.  “Yes, I thought, and pressed my lips together.  He may send me away for changing it, but it is better now” (133).  Griet thought she risked her position so she could enhance the artwork and offer her suggestion that she was so confident in, however her position was never at risk because Vermeer always considered her opinion valuable and brought her into his studio so that he could have direct access to her artistic input.  He knew that by emerging her in that situation she would be unable to control her urges to add to art.  The help Maria Thins provided was that she helped ground him to reality and acted as a reminder to the fact that he had a family to care for and support, and that certain projects were necessary to do at a certain time and pace.  Griet then became the muse (in both the beauty that she radiated and from the contributions that she made) that made painting easier and put inspiration back into his pieces, making this goal that Maria Thins pushed easier.  The two strong-willed women were able to work off of one another which Maria Thins always knew and understood, and was why she never told Catharina that Griet worked for Vermeer in his studio or why she never judged Vermeer too harshly for keeping this girl close.  She knew that the intentions were pure and that she was merely his muse for improving his artwork.

Although it seems as if his feelings for Griet at times were very intense, he never loved her; she was his muse, and if anything he lusted for her and she likewise for him.  But to say that they loved one another would be an overstatement.  She loved the possibilities that he presented to her; he helped her to understand a new part of herself and to learn to embrace her own creativity.  He showed her a new way to observe the world and see beauty behind everything, to look beyond just a layer of colors and see the smaller pieces that make up one specific color.  Even though she was not skilled enough to paint and she did not have certain school taught skills, Griet had an inherent appreciation and tendency towards art and beauty that Vermeer was able to unleash for her.  This was how he benefitted her and helped improve her life, and she was able to be the muse that he needed to help him keep creating.  She became the intellectual counterpart that he never had in Catharina because she did not understand art, or in Maria Thins who only cared about the monetary aspect of the trade.  When in the end of the novel he writes in his will that Griet is to have Catharina’s pearl earrings, it is because he knows that the beauty of the pearls can only be complimented by Griet after the creation of the painting.  Once the painting became perpetual, the earrings lost their individual beauty and were never the same again; Catharina could never give them the beauty that they possessed on Griet in the painting and they lost their original appeal.  They could only exist in the world of the painting, and since Griet was also a part of that world, it was appropriate to give her the earrings so that both could have their chance to be eternal and capture pure art again.

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