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Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl With a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier

Girl with a Pearl Earring


Tracy Chevalier


Plume, 2001


The “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is a painting done by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, around 1665.  Not much is known about Vermeer which gives Chevalier creative license to develop what I believe is an interesting story.  The painting is currently on exhibition in New York, at the Frick Collection. The exhibition is scheduled to be there until January 19, 2014.


The story told in first person by Griet the protagonist starts in Delft (South Holland), in 1664, when she was sixteen (16).  Griet is the daughter of a tile painter who has recently lost his sight.  Griet parents hired her out as a maid to the Vermeer family.  Griet was expected to help out her family by bringing home the fruits of her labor.  In the first few pages of the book there is considerable change in this family.  The father has lost his sight, her brother Frans (thirteen (13)) has left home to start an apprenticeship, now Griet is leaving home to work.  Her younger sister Agnes is upset because she will be without both siblings.  Griet is concerned because her family is Protestant and while the Vermeer’s are Catholic. 


When the Vermeers visits Griet’s house to determine her suitability for the job as maid they each looked at her differently.  Catharina, Vermeer’s wife was concerned about Griet’s physical ability to perform the job while Vermeer noted how she had laid out the vegetable she was cutting up for a stew separating them by color, in a circular pattern.


The Vermeers have five (5) children with one on the way.  Vermeer’s mother-in-law, Maria Thins, also lives in the house.  There are a couple of other servants who assisted in running the household, which gave room for more conflicts in the story.  Griet’s main job is doing the laundry and cleaning Vermeer’s studio, but, she also helps with the kitchen and taking care of the children.  Griet was challenged by many conflicts primarily with Catharina, Cornelia (one of the children), and Tanneke (a long term servant).  She also has to fight off Vermeer’s patron, van Ruijven.  He is married but has a reputation for chasing young maids.


Griet later took on more responsibility which included purchasing food for the family.  She noted that the Vermeer family use Pieter for their butcher.  She was to shop for the family daily and purchase the meat for the day.  Pieter had a son who showed interest in Griet, which was at first not returned.


Griet showed interest in Vermeer’s painting and asked him questions which he seemed to encourage.  He later showed her how he made his colors for his paintings.  Griet later became the subject of a portrait which he was commissioned by van Ruijven to paint.


I think the author struggled at times to write as a sixteen (16) year old would think.  However, I enjoyed the book.