VERMEER, Johannes
(b. 1632, Delft, d. 1675, Delft)

Woman with a Pearl Necklace

Oil on canvas, 55 x 45 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Signature: Signed on the table.

Provenance: Sale Amsterdam, 1696, no. 36: "A young lady adorning herself, very beautiful; by ditto; fl 30." Sale Johannes Caudri, Amsterdam, 1809, no. 42. Sale D. Tengs, Amsterdam, 1811, no. 73. Sale Amsterdam, 1856, no. 93. Sale Collection H. Grevedon, Paris, 1853(?), not as Vermeer. Collection Thoré-Bürger, 1866. Sale Comte Cornet de Ways Ruart, Brussels, 1868, no. 49. For 3,500 Belgian francs to Sedelmayer. Collection Suermondt, 1874.

In this painting, along with Woman in Blue Reading a Letter and Woman Holding a Balance, Vermeer attempted a composition in which he showed a single woman concentrating on some kind of occupation. In each case, the woman is shown turning inward with her thoughts, and using some minor physical activity to give herself some countenance. In this case, she gazes into a mirror while holding two yellow ribbons attached to a pearl necklace around her neck. The distance between the solitary figure to the right and the mirror on the wall, next to the window to the left, is filled by a heavy table slightly to the fore. This part of the painting is very dark, with nothing more than a Chinese vase and a rug irregularly covering the table to occupy the space.

The light falling in from the left, dispersed by the creamy bare wall, illuminates the meditative young woman admiring her reflection in the distant mirror.

In this instance, as well as in the above mentioned two, all emblematic explanations or identifications, such as truth, prudence, or others, do not apply. During these years, the artist was obviously preoccupied and influenced by Eastern thought. The stillness and introspection of the models reflect the search for aloof withdrawal and serenity as taught by Buddhist writings. It is in this sense that we must understand and appreciate Vermeer's creations during his maturity.