"The first part of the body that a man wants, and which a woman must loyally protect, is the ear; no word or sound should enter it other than the sweet sound of chaste words, which are the oriental pearls of the gospel." St. Francis De Sales
Johannes Vermeer's The Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) is an essential standard for beautiful, delicate portraiture. We all know it. We have all seen it. Scar Jo tried her best. The subject is often speculated to have been a servant, or a lover (or both) to Vermeer. Her gaze is bashful and exaggerated. Her posture is meek. She is a picture of beautiful, Dutch realness, the house down. Ultimately, however, she is a nameless, pretty face that we do not know much about. Too real IMO... Am I right, ladies?
Art is and has always been a vehicle for passion. Throughout nearly the entire expanse of Art History, the image of the Woman has been used to incite feelings of desire, to personify fertility and, oftentimes, to subjugate or objectify. The Venus of Willendorf (Austria, 28-25,000BCE) started the trend nearly 30,000 years ago, and it continues with any pop starlet on the cover of whatever magazine you kids are digitally inclined to indulge in these days.
Vermeer obviously did not paint with any malicious intent in this piece; she's beauty, she's grace, she's housed permanently in The Hague. While this Art History 101 classic is aesthetically and technically masterful, the story behind it is also a feminist rabbit hole; her disposition and absence of noted identity do speak volumes to the way women have been viewed historically, and it definitely deserved some exploration.
Surprisingly enough, The Girl in question is most likely Vermeer's daughter, Maria, who also is possibly the model for several other paintings in his portfolio. This, at least, takes away any sexualizing of the subject for us, praise the lord almighty. By putting her in this portrait with the pearl earrings, Vermeer is most likely creating an allegory for decency and chastity. #ParentingWin. However, this story is not over! Maria was also a painter, most likely trained by Vermeer in secret, and it has been speculated that she was actually the creator of 20% of Vermeer's works! THE NERVE. "Girl with a Red Hat" is one notable example, where you can see it is most likely a self portrait by her posture and penetrating, intent stare.
While this seems to be a case of plagiarism by Vermeer, the truth is unknown. It is definitely a possibility that Vermeer's family sold the paintings under this guise after his death to repay some debts. It is also likely that historians miscredited the works that seem like Vermeer misfits. The complete story will most likely never come to light; unless Ol JoJo Vermeezy kept a cute diary, the world will never know.
Art has been dominated by men. Men making art for men to view. This is essentially what the "male gaze" is. With this project, every week I will recreate women depicted throughout Art History in a series of self-portraits, giving background to the pieces and their relevance. By doing so, I hope to not only revisit the original ideas and subjects behind these pieces, but also try to queer the male gaze, as it were. I will be a gay man of color, remaking art made for straight men.
Behold my Oriental Pearls of the Gospel, HENNY!!!!