GIRL WITH A PEWTER EARRING sounds far less poetic but far more accurate if observations made about Vermeer's painting are true. In December 2014, astronomer Vincent Icke claimed that the jewel adorning the Dutch girl's ear could not have been a real pearl. His doubt arises from the way the bead in the painting gleams on the top left corner while reflecting the girl's collar on the bottom. An actual pearl, he explains, would scatter light of different wavelengths and produce a soft, pearly sheen.
The Mauritshuis, current home of the painting, share Icke's conclusion. Curators Quentin Buvelot and Ariane van Suchtelen posit that the "unrealistic size" of the pearl make it likely that it was a cheaper glass bead from Venice, which were common in the 17th century. "Whereas most pearls nowadays come from farms, in the seventeenth century, they were natural ones. Pearls were formed in oyster-like sea mussels. Large pearls were rare and ended up in the hands of the richest people on the planet."
Fortunately for us today, pearl earrings are much more accessible than in Vermeer's time. Still, imitation pearls persist. My current favorites, Dior's Tribale and Chloé's Darcey earrings feature pearls made of resin and Swarovski simulations, respectively. I do own a respectably authentic pair from my native Philippines but it's the trendy pairs I wear daily that have become precious to me, out of habit, and in spite of how "un-precious" their materials may be.
Vermeer's girl could in fact be dangling a pewter, glass or silver bead from her earlobe but there's no tarnishing the painting's current title. Also known in the past as Girl with the Turban and Girl's Face, the name Girl with a Pearl Earring has become immortalized in present-day consciousness thanks to Tracy Chevalier's 1999 novel of the same name. It's also the novel that inspired that delectable film with Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth.
I am so attached to my pearls that I rarely leave home without them. By pearls, I mean the simulated ones by Dior and Chloé. "Girl with a Resin Earring" sounds accurately lame. Perhaps not all contexts call for accuracy.
What's your favorite accessory?
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, mauritshuis.nl