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Current time:0:00Total duration:3:11

Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring

Video transcript

we're in the mort's house in the hague and we're looking at probably their most famous painting this is from years grow with the Pearl Earring well I would say not just their most well-known painting but maybe one of the most well known paintings generally but only recently true it's a painting that really seems to have ascended in the late 20th century and it's interesting how our society picks out certain paintings for fame and that people really fall in love with and perhaps it's because this was the centerpiece of a film this was the centerpiece of a novel and perhaps because we know so little about the painting and it's interesting that this is sometimes referred to as that Dutch Mona Lisa in both cases we have bust length portraits of women in rather indeterminate backgrounds now we should be careful here because this may look like a portrait to us but in fact it's not a portrait the Mona Lisa is but for a long time her identity wasn't known now we are pretty confident we know who the Mona Lisa was but in this case this is not a portrait this is known as a Tony that is a representation of a character of a particular type of person the way that we have for instance in modern American situation comedies you have the villain you have the hero you have a certain type of person and we think this is a exotic type because of her turban and her clothing seems foreign and also that rather oversized Pearl Earring and the way that we see her from the side but she turns towards us and so there's something momentary there's something very alluring but we're not addressing her directly it's a lot like the Mona Lisa in both cases we have gazes that seem enigmatic what are they thinking who are they what is our relationship to her they're both paintings that really open up possibilities for interpretation with no one correct answer well so much so that somebody was able to produce an entire novel based on the single painting that we know so little about what we do know about this thing though is that it's technique is really quite extraordinary the subtlety of light is stunning the way in which the reflectivity of the pearl is cast against the darkness of her neck softness of her features and also the harmonies of those blues and golds now we know that from your worked very slowly some art historians have suggested that he only produced perhaps just two or three paintings a year and that his technique was really painstaking and we can see that in the care in which he's creating form out of light but it's so momentary just like we look at Dutch landscapes and we have a sense of the passage of time as the clouds move across the landscape here we have that same sense of a figure has just turned her head and it's about to speak with us or about to engage us but we don't know what about and that our eyes are just in the process of focusing on her as she meets our gaze and so we are complicit in this moment anything the subtlety of colour and the subtlety of light the intimacy here all of that allows us to register this very personal moment and perhaps this is why this painting is so beloved you