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In Famous Painting, the Pearl Earring Came Last

'Girl With a Pearl Earring' created with pigments from around the world, research reveals
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 28, 2020 2:17 PM CDT

(Newser) – Researchers using a battery of modern imaging techniques have gotten under the skin of Johannes Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring," sometimes referred to as the Dutch "Mona Lisa." "Sadly we didn't find out who this young lady was and if she ever really existed," Martine Gosselink, director of the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague said in an online presentation Tuesday of new research findings, per the AP. "But we did get a little closer to her." The 2018 research project, involving what amounted to a full-body scan of the work completed by Vermeer around 1665, uncovered how the Golden Age Dutch master outlined the girl in black lines, completing her face, jacket, and collar while leaving the blue headscarf and pearl earring for last. It also confirmed that the girl has eyelashes and is painted in front of a green curtain now faded from view.

Microscopic scans also revealed tiny fragments from Vermeer's paintbrushes embedded in the girl's skin. Scans that mapped the maze of tiny cracks that have formed in the paint over the years will now be used as a baseline to monitor the health of the canvas in coming years. Analysis of microscopic paint samples was able to pinpoint where the pigments Vermeer used originated. The white lead that forms the earring comes from the Peak District in northern England, the ultramarine blue is ground from lapis lazuli found in what is now Afghanistan and the red is cochineal, made from bugs that live on cactus plants in Mexico and South America. "This blue pigment was more valuable than gold in the 17th century," said project leader Abbie Vandivere. The materials, likely purchased in Vermeer’s hometown of Delft, show the extent of world trade at the time. (Read more art stories.)

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