The scientific examination of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring

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Reference K. M. Groen, Inez D. van der Werf, K.-J. van den Berg and J. J. Boon: The scientific examination of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring In: Vermeer Studies : Symposium Papers XXXIII Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts /ed. I. Gaskell and M. Jonker, National Gallery of Art, 1998. - pp. 168-183

The background of the Girl with a Pear Earring seems to be exceptional in Johannes Vermeer’s oeuvre; the only picture with a comparable dark background is Portrait of a Young Woman (in New York), dated c. 1666-1667. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. points out that Vermeer’s departure from his normal scheme of silhouetting figures against a white wall was according to the Dutch tradition and was meant to enhance the three-dimensional effect. White backgrounds tend to come forward while dark backgrounds tend to recede, bringing the figure into prominence. Presently the background of the Girl with a Pearl Earring appears uneven and spotted. During the 1994-1995 restoration it became clear that this appearance has nothing to do with ornamentation as, for example is the case with the background of The Girl with the Red Hat. The poor state of the painting may be related to earlier restoration procedures. It has been documented that the painting had been subjected to several lining and regeneration treatments. Investigation of the background was therefore undertaken as part of a larger study of the techniques and materials used by Vermeer in this painting. In 1980 the picture was investigated nondestructively by J.R.J. van Asperen de Boer and Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. with infrared reflectography and a stereomicroscope. Dark underpaint was found under the shadows of the blue turban, the yellow drapery, and the flesh. A small change in composition was found at the back of the neck. As early as 1968 two paint samples had been removed from the background along the left-hand and right-hand and right-handed edges and analyzed by Hermann K