Symbols and Their Portrayal of the Girl with the Pearl Earring

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  • Topic: Color, Camera obscura, Girl with a Pearl Earring
  • Pages : 5 (1705 words )
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  • Published : March 5, 2011
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Symbols and Their Portrayal of the Girl With the Pearl Earring

Throughout the novel, Girl With A Pearl Earring, many symbols are prevalent to the main character, Griet. Tracy Chevalier, the author, describes the obstacles a maid in the late 1600’s must go through in order to sustain a living incorporating a famous painting into the core of the story to keep the reader’s attention. In the beginning of the novel, Vermeer first experiences Griet’s artistic ability and intelligence when she is cutting up vegetables for her family. Vermeer and Griet’s relationship grows during the advancement of the novel, and her inventive personality shows more ubiquitous to the famous artist. Vermeer, however, has a different relationship toward Catherina, his wife, than he shares with Griet. Vermeer is unable to share his love for painting with his wife. As Griet is introduced into his house, he has found someone with whom to share his opinions. The alluring servant girl, Griet, with no fault of her own, finds that her genuine beauty attracts Vermeer’s gaze, as a man and as an artist, so much that he is left with no choice but to convey her essence with just paint and a canvas. The similarities in the way they think bond each other in a special way only noticeable by the reader. Griet’s life experiences are analogous to the symbols illustrated in Vermeer’s painting. These symbols include the colors that reflect Griet’s life and hardships, her elusive turban, the earring her master gives to her, and the uncommon additions Vermeer adds to the painting.

“No, your hand needs to do this.” He placed his hand over mine. The shock of his touch made me drop the muller, which rolled off the table and fell on the floor. I jumped away from him and bent down to pick it up. […] It took me much longer to grind my piece, for I was clumsy and flustered from his touch.

Color usage is of great importance and significance in the novel. The color groups that Griet separates the vegetables into is the first representation of her artistic ability.

I always laid vegetables out in a circle, each with its own section like a slice of pie. There were five slices: red cabbage, onions, leeks, carrots, and turnips. I had used a knife-edge to shape each slice, and placed a carrot disc in the center. (Chevalier 5)

The sections she separates the vegetables into are not only by types, but also by colors, which is noted by Vermeer. “The colors fight when they are side by side […].” (Chevalier 5) This began Vermeer’s fascination toward Griet’s actions. Vermeer’s paintings also illustrate another color scheme portrayed in the novel. The backgrounds in all of Vermeer’s paintings are not always a solid black.

“There are two exceptions in which the women have only a solid black background with no context. In one of them, Portrait of a Young Woman, she looks as if she were sitting for a portrait, […] by contrast, [in] Girl With a Pearl Earring […] she is looking over her shoulder directly at the spectator” (Strout 1).

While Vermeer begins to use Griet as an assistant, she does not seem to understand his choices of colors. Instead of mixing the colors that her master requested of her, she would make assumptions of the shades and hues she believed would work well with the painting. Vermeer gives her a description of the clouds and how they incorporate many different colors, not just a single color. “You will find there is little pure white in clouds, yet people say they are white. Now do you understand why I do not need the blue yet?” (Chevalier 101) The introduction of the camera obscura is what begins Griet’s fascination with his choices in color. Looking through the camera provides a way to view what is not seen with the naked eye, or therefore regarded. “The image was treated as a projection of a reality transformed by the artist” (Cibelli 1). It helps to see the painting in a whole new way to where the...
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