Girl with a Pearl Earring
by Tracy Chevalier
Inspired by Vermeer's portrait of the same name, Girl with a Pearl Earring is an intriguing story set in 17th century Holland.
Griet is a 16 year old girl sent to the Delft home of the painter Johannes Vermeer to become a serving girl and to help care for his six children. She also has to cope with his jealous, vain and materialistic wife and her shrewd mother. Although quiet and shy Griet is a strong-willed and intelligent young woman who soon becomes embroiled in the family intrigue.
As she learns more about his work Griet becomes drawn into his world and graduates from serving girl to the painter's assistant, learning how to mix the colours for his palette and eventually becomes his model. The growing intimacy of the pair sparks gossip and when Griet appears in a portrait in exotic dress and wearing the pearl earrings belonging to the painter's wife a full-blown scandal ensues.
The claustrophobia and social rivalry of small town life is brilliantly encapsulated in this novel and perfectly reflects Vermeer's domestic interiors where sitters pose dressed in all their finery amongst their worldly goods - their raison d'être.
Tracy Chevalier chooses the portrait of the Girl with a Pearl Earring to construct a wonderful story round one of the most enigmatic figures on the history of art. Never mind that most of this is speculation (very little is known of Vermeer's life) - sit back and relax and enjoy this novel in all its elegance - and check out the paintings too!