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Earth Pigments used in Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring

Today I saw a headline about the ‘New Revelations about “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, the painting by Johannes Vermeer. I’m not sure why it is surprising that the pigments of this iconic painting are earth pigments. But then I don’t know all that much about what was used in the 1600’s to make paint, aside from earth pigments. Maybe they had already begun to use synthetic pigments. Obviously, I have not retained a lot of details from my previous art history classes.

However, I did enjoy reading the article about it at Art & Object. Apparently some studies were done, confirming the use of iron rich earth pigments in the paints.

One of the revelations revealed by the new technologies employed were the eyelashes that aren’t visible to the naked eye anymore. And the curtains of the background. As beautiful as most of the colors still are, it has changed over time. I’d say that 355 years is an excuse enough for faded eyelashes.

That Blue, Though

The blue is made from lapis lazuli. I’ve made a tiny amount of blue from a lower quality raw lapis I had on hand, and it was one of the most difficult paints I’ve made. I needed it for the eye of a pelican.

This pigment was more valuable than gold at the time Vermeer painted this Girl. It is the source for the blue of the mantle of the Madonna’s robes in Renaissance paintings.

If you’ve ever taken an art appreciation class, you should remember seeing the painting, even if you can’t remember the artist’s name. I’ll admit that I always forget it, but I’ll never forget The Girl by Vermeer. There is something captivating about the way she is looking at the artist. It amazes me that portrait artists can capture facial expressions like this.

What makes it even more amazing is that this was done in the days before an artist could just snap a picture to capture the moment.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer.
Johannes Vermeer / Public domain

Author/Artist Info
Madison Woods is a self-taught artist who moved to the Ozarks from south Louisiana in 2005. In 2018 she began experimenting with watercolor painting, using her local pigments. She calls them Paleo Paints, and her artwork features exclusively the lightfast pigments foraged from Madison county, Arkansas. Her inspiration is nature – the beauty, and the inherent cycle of life and death, destruction and regeneration.

Her online portfolio is at www.MadisonWoods.art.

Click here to join her mailing list.

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