TU Delft researchers gain new insights into Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring

News - 27 April 2020 - Communication

Scientific research into the world-famous painting by Johannes Vermeer, known as the 'Girl with a Pearl Earring', has yielded new insights. TU Delft researchers played an important role in making discoveries about the brushwork, the use of pigments and how Vermeer built up his painting with various layers of paint. 

The research, which was carried out at the Mauritshuis by researchers from various institutes, provided more insight into the way in which Johannes Vermeer worked. The researchers from TU Delft were led by Professor Joris Dik.

At the Faculty of Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering (3mE), cross-sections and X-rays were used to look closely at the materials used for The Girl with a Pearl Earring. Victor Gonzalez and Joris Dik, together with researchers from the University of Antwerp, discovered that Vermeer used two different types of lead white. In the lightest parts of The Girl with a Pearl Earring the researchers found a reflective form of lead white, while in the shadows a more transparent type of lead white was used.

The team of the Faculty of Applied Sciences (AS), with Tom Callewaert and Jeroen Kalkman, used optical coherence tomography (OCT) to provide insight into the construction of the dark background of the Girl with the Pearl Earring. This showed how Vermeer darkened the background with the help of a green layer of glazing that he used to hide the rough brush strokes of the underlying layer of paint.

It was Willemijn Elkhuizen of the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering (IDE), among others, who very accurately mapped the surface of the painting using 3D techniques. Particularly striking was the painting's craquelure of the surface. Only the structure of the Girl's collar is different, meaning this must have been one of the final touches to the painting.

In the video below, Professor Joris Dik explains the role of TU Delft researchers in unravelling the painting by Johannes Vermeer.  He discusses the great light/dark contrast between the girl and the background. He explains what materials Vermeer used to create this contrast and what could have inspired Vermeer.

Read more about this project on the special page of the Mauritshuis: https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/explore/restoration-and-research/girl-in-the-spotlight/ 

Prof.dr. Joris Dik

Dr. ir. Willemijn Elkhuizen

Dimmy van Ruiten

Press officer TU Delft