Copyright © 2018 Ambrin Howell All Rights Reserved
A Girl and Her Pearl
A review of The Mauritshuis Museum with Vermeer's 'Girl with a Pearl Earring', The Hague Holland
Reading Time: 6 mins

As you step out of Den Haag Centraal Station it is immediately apparent that this beautiful Dutch City is home to one very special lady. As you walk down from the station and weave the streets you won’t need Google maps to find out where you’re going. The town is lined with banners and posters of the ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’  and kindly they guide you down to The Mauritshuis Museum, where she is patiently awaiting your arrival.

 

Den Haag (The Hague) is Holland’s third largest city, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam. As you pace eagerly through the City take a moment to appreciate the wonderful shops and little gems along the way. I was particularly diverted by a sweet little crystal and mineral boutique down by the station. On approaching the museum it is worth looking out for the International Court of Justice, an arresting building which you can arrange to visit if you contact ahead of time. The Mauritshuis Museum is a completely charming piece of architecture in itself. You will have time to circle the building and you can gaze round the back and see how it appears to float on water! Before entering the painting rooms you will be encouraged to download the museum app on your phone. The app takes you from painting to painting and gives you an in detail explanation of each work. I have to say I found the content on the app incredibly engaging and I actually left it on my phone for a while after my visit, in order to read up about some of my favourite paintings.

Upon entering the galleries the first painting that hit me was a wonderfully exotic portrait of The Garden of Eden, complete with peacocks and lions as well as goats, rabbits and deer. There is a serpent hiding in the shadow of a tree and Adam and Eve are painted glowing beneath, sharing the one apple that is about the change the world. I can’t help but think of this as a sort of biblical Steve Jobs prequel. The paintwork is stunning and there are just so many different elements and details within the garden. One would be forgiven for trying to climb in through the frame to continue exploring. I steal myself away from the tempting serpent and his friends and glide happily into the next room which brings me face to face with yet another incredible work. ‘Appelles painting Campaspe’ is a gigantic painting of a room filled with tiny paintings! I actually was slightly stunned when I first laid eyes upon this work, the scale and quality in each tiny artwork is completely mesmerising and actually, almost unbelievable. I took myself very close to the picture and spent time admiring each little individual canvas. ‘Appelles painting Campaspe’ makes you feel as though for a moment, you have been transported into another little secret gallery. After admiring these two great works what became clear was that The Mauritshuis Museum is no ordinary painting gallery. Before one gets to Vermeer’s ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’, a magical journey of remarkable masterpieces awaits. As you continue on and up through the gallery you will notice that jewellery, and especially pearls, are a key feature in many of the paintings. This acts as the perfect foreplay ahead of the final event. One painting I found especially charming was ‘Kitchen Interiors’. The work depicts a grandiose swan sat on a 17th century kitchen table. As I look closer into the painting the swan starts to look more and more peculiar. After reading through my app I realise that actually what I am looking at is an incredibly decadent swan pie! The bird is dripping in decoration and what I love most is the large jewel dripping down from the beak. I stop to wonder whether this painting somehow foretold the Swarovski Swan.

I will take a moment to point out that I visited in August and the gallery was not overcrowded in the slightest. I often shared the room with just one or two other people and the atmosphere was very relaxed and spacious. After climbing the staircase leading up to the ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ you can definitely sense an extra buzz, although again nothing over-packed or at all unpleasant. As I approached the room I was so nervous to take myself in to actually meet her. Will she look like I hope she does? What if she’s underwhelming? Should I pretend to be amazed, even if I’m not? In the most modern terms, what if she doesn’t look like she does in her photo? I took one deep breath and stepped through, and my god there she was. Comfortable and poised, she sits gazing from within her golden frame and stares you down as you enter. It's amazing to think that this is a painting of a woman who never actually existed. Vermeer created her from his imagination, I suspect mixing together previous studies and paintings of different women. I am not alone in the room but the way she is looking at me makes me feel like I am. She stares over her shoulder with such confidence and I feel like she is listening to us all, graciously taking her compliments and seducing every new face that enters. Vermeer gifted the girl a harsh black background when he painted her, a gift that allows her to bask in an air of mystery. This minimal backdrop means that the only way we can read her is through her face, her clothes and of course her jewellery. Having  held her gaze for a while I break away to scroll through my app again and read a little more about the painting. Here it is suggested that the pearl earring she so famously wears is 'improbably large'. It is in fact commonly thought that the earring featured in the portrait is actually a large jewel made out of tin. I try to examine the earring for myself, to draw my own conclusion on this but somehow I just can't quite focus. And it's because she doesn't want me to. She doesn't want me to question her and she doesn't appreciate my doubts. In 1665 she put on an earring and has been wearing it ever since. She doesn't care if it was once made of tin. Because really the earring is oil and canvas, the earring is colour and brush strokes,  and the earring is light and dark. Vermeer gave her a pearl. And in so doing he gave us a picture, and my what an enchanting picture. She seduces, she intimidates and she charms. Once you meet her, she stays with you. And this staying power is what makes Vermeer's 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' so arresting, and such a powerful masterpiece.
Top Tips
- You can visit The Mauritshuis Museum whilst holidaying in Amsterdam. The train takes roughly an hour each way and is inexpensive.
- Make sure you clear storage space on your phone ahead of time so that you can download the app quickly and conveniently when you get there. They have wifi.
- Allow time to visit the museum gift shop to satisfy all your 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' souvenir desires. I bought the t-shirt as well as a couple of little trays and tins, which now act as storage in my workshop for any loose pearls!