I have always had an affinity for pearls. It could be because the pearl is my birthstone. Or because I once read that it symbolized “tears of joy and sorrow”: its split personality struck me as both tragic and evocative. Perhaps it is its silky richness – its delicate decadence. Or just maybe it is the pearl’s origins – in the belly of an oyster, rooted in its bed far beneath the sea.
Jan Vermeer’s “Girl With A Pearl Earring” sounds like such a humble thing; yet it is a miracle of color and light. There are no lines in the painting, no harsh borders: only subtle frontiers that are seen by the mind as much as they are by the eye. The juxtaposition of texture and shadow is as imperceptible as the descending twilight that softens yet changes the landscape. The touch that molded her face is as ethereal as gossamer.
Vermeer painted with light as if it stood in waiting pools on his palette; it is the defining grace of the portrait. It stretches in blue valleys across the girl’s turban. It glows like a melted star from her lower lip. It warms her moon-like face in a hushed, radiant patina. But most of all, it is the creating force; the central, incandescent life of her pearl earring.
The singular bauble hangs like a dainty planet, stolen from its galaxy and forced to glow in metallic glory by itself. Softly oval, the pearl’s gentle curves nestle against the acquiescent shadows of the girl’s neck. Within it is a world of elusive prisms: silver, brown, gold, lavender, blue. The colors are stirred together to create an object as warm as an alchemist’s elixir yet cool enough to calm the rich flesh of a young girl.
The girl’s earring must have weighed heavily from her ear – as if it were trying to get her attention. If she listened, what would she hear? The painful throbbing of the steel hook that had inelegantly punctured her earlobe – the tincture of rust that now ran through her blood? Or perhaps she heard something else. Perhaps she heard the sound of her treasure’s parents: childless, buried at sea and softly crying.