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Hype is a slippery slope in the art world, and Woman with a Pearl Necklace may forever live in the shadow of Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Regardless, the leading lady of this tableau doesn’t stray far behind in charm. Like many of Vermeer’s subjects, she’s a fashion icon in her own right. Not everyone can rock a floral headband, golden coat, and polka dots simultaneously— even at Coachella. Yet somehow, the anonymous figure pictured at her dressing table manages to add on a signature string of pearls. Whoever said 17th century outfits couldn’t be personal?

Apart from an eccentric taste in fashion, there’s little we know about the star of the piece. She seems to be the same model as the one featured in The Love Letter and A Lady Writing a Letter, again covered in heaps of metallic finery. The canvas hung in Vermeer’s wife’s bedroom, indicating that the model may be Catharina herself. Yet the suspiciously youthful appearance of the golden clad fashionista doesn’t quite add up with Catharina’s age at the time, a more mature thirty-three. The mystery surrounding Vermeer’s life and the identities of his muses earned the painter the nickname “The Sphinx of Delft.” Tacky? A bit. Better than the moniker given to painter Jacques-Louis David, “David of the Tumor?” Certainly.

Adding to the intrigue are the model’s familiar earrings. The large, silvery pendants are identical to the iconic jewelry of Girl with a Pearl Earring. Likely a family heirloom, these earrings were featured in many of Vermeer’s portraits, including Woman with a Lute and Girl with a Red Hat. But could the titular jewelry of the “Dutch Mona Lisa” be fakes? The size of the “pearls” is ridiculous, especially since Vermeer’s paintings predated artificial pearl production by a century. Natural pearls can indeed by massive, as evidenced by the legendary six kilogram “Pearl of Lao Tzu,” but it’s unlikely the humble painter stumbled across jewelry so expensive. The case is so frequently debated among historians that a Dutch astrophysicist wrote a scientific article analyzing the painted jewelry for reflectiveness and light patterns. His conclusion? The earrings were likely metal. Pearl earrings or tin ones, the Woman with a Pearl Necklace is dressed and ready for a day on the town, blissfully unaware of the scholarly debates that will one day surround her jewelry.


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Here is what Wikipedia says about Woman with a Pearl Necklace

Woman with a Pearl Necklace by Johannes Vermeer is a Dutch Golden Age painting of about 1664. Painted in oils on canvas, Johannes Vermeer portrayed a young Dutch woman, most likely of upper-class descent, dressing herself with two yellow ribbons, pearl earrings, and a pearl necklace. As a very popular artist of the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age, Vermeer depicted many women in similar circumstances within interior, domestic scenes. The same woman also appears in The Love Letter and A Lady Writing a Letter.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Woman with a Pearl Necklace