I don’t have the painter’s eyes. I don’t have the hands of a sketcher. I don’t have the creative mind of an artist. I have limited knowledge of everything about the concept called ART. But I like to look at paintings. It awes me how these artists capture the beauty of a person, a place or a thing in a canvass. How they blend the colors and how they stroke their brushes lightly and how they remember details even if the model isn’t there. I am amazed at everything these painters do (because I don’t have that talent! Ha-ha).
The picture above is the celebrated portrait painted by Johannes Vermeer called the Girl with a Pearl Earring. At first look (it’s the book’s cover), I see nothing special about it. I was like ‘it’s just a portrait of a woman wearing some blue and yellow head cover and a pearl earring’ and what’s the fuss about making a book about this? Maybe because it’s a mystery that the portrait isn’t dated or if it’s a commission or what. But I don’t find these reasons satisfying so I read the book, Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, in which she reached the world of this particular painting and how the painter, Johannes Vermeer lived in Delft and created captivating paintings. It is told in the eyes of a seventeen year old maid named Griet who was employed at the Vermeer’s household at Papist’s corner. At first she is just doing her job to earn money for her family to live and then Vermeer asked her to be his assistant –
I came to love grinding the things he brought from the apothecary–bones, white lead, madder, massicot–to see how bright and pure I could get the colors. I learned that the finer the materials were ground, the deeper the color. From rough, dull grains madder became a fine bright red powder and, mixed with linseed oil, a sparkling paint. Making it and the other colors was magical.
Ultimately, Vermeer asked her to sit for him as a model and he painted her without telling his jealous-eternally pregnant wife Catharina and his annoying daughter (I forgot the name! They had 11 children, how am I supposed to remember it all).
As I go on, I just realized that Ms. Chevalier is telling the scenes (cleaning the house, cleaning the studio, Vermeer painting this and that, the camera, etc) many times within the book. I know reading same scenes over and over again is tedious but let me tell you, Ms. Chevalier has the way of telling it with twists, and significant little changes like a painting. Layer by layer. There’s no hurry, just enjoy it. I love how she describes everything – the painting, the colors – like she is the painter herself! I am – for the lack of better word – captivated by it.
Most of the characters are likeable even the unlikable one (*cough*Catharina*cough*). Johannes Vermeer made himself scarce during the story, it’s alright, because whenever he shows up or speak up, it’s remarkable. I might say, I look forward to those scenes, imagining Colin Firth! Squee! (I haven’t seen the movie yet. Meh).
I loved this book and I think this is the book that I can read all over again (I rarely read a book twice unless it’s really a good one).
Book #59 for 2010
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier