This Girl is up for a dialog with everyone in the world

Johannes Vermeer's Girl in the Spotlight underwent analysis in 1994 in "Vermeer Illuminated" and again in 2018 as part of the "Girl in the Spotlight" project. Jørgen Wadum was involved in both projects, and in this engaging post, he takes through his relationship with the Girl.

In 1994, after an interview on the progress of restoring Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, a Dutch newspaper proclaimed that ‘Jørgen Wadum is in love with her’. Although never so candidly declared from my side, it should be noted that our relationship started much earlier.

It may appear predestined, but in the 1960s during my teen-age years in Vejle (Jutland, Denmark), I had an A1-size poster of the Girl prominently displayed on the wall in my room.

Jørgen Wadum examines the Girl out of the frame in the Mauritshuis gallery in order to draft a treatment proposal (early 1994)
© Mauritshuis

So, the Girl and I are in fact beyond a ‘golden wedding anniversary’. Like in any good relationship, the Girl continues to enchant, inspire, and fascinate.

Thanks to the recent Girl in the Spotlight project, all the notes, letters, drawings and thoughts encountered during my first face-to-face meeting with the Girl in the 1990s were again brought to light.

It was a bit like rediscovering a box in the attic with relics from the past.

Having a new team of internationally acclaimed experts review the documentation from the 1994 Vermeer Illuminated project – deliberations, photographs, and the research results compiled by the team of experts from the collaborating disciplines within conservation, conservation science, and art – could appear nerve-wracking.

It was, however, a delight to learn that the painting is still in good condition. The removal of a brown ‘gallery tone’ of deliberately tinted varnish (applied after the 1960 restoration) and the delicate inpainting by Nicola Costaras in 1994 has survived the test of time.

Therefore, it has been a thrill to witness how the fresh approach by the Girl in the Spotlight project team and their highly sophisticated equipment evaluated the material composition of Vermeer’s painting anew. Advancing our understanding of the artist creative process will teach us to better understand his intention with the painting.

Creating a painting means making material choices. A variety of different brushes would move the paint from the artist’s palette to the canvas.

The pigments bound in oils would be layered to indicate or mimic the textures of textiles, skin, and the moisture on her lips and in her eyes.

The late Karin Groen, conservation scientist at the Central Laboratory (Amsterdam), and Jørgen Wadum examine surface phenomena of the Girl during the 1994 treatment
© Mauritshuis

Standing in front of the painting in the Mauritshuis offers the beholder a unique experience of privacy – the Girl and you captured by her enigmatic gaze – and one becomes engaged in a very secret and emotional conversation.

Unraveling the meaning of making of a painting teaches not only researchers and caretakers of these delicate art works how to best understand and care for them for the enjoyment of future generations.

We come to understand past interactions between a variety of traders of materials and pigments.

From Afghanistan to Latin America they came and became mixed with locally produced white pigments and yellow colorants. They all landed in the paint box of Vermeer. In Delft. The world was at his fingertips.

The Girl with the Pearl Earring was created by stuff from around the globe, and the current top-notch international science project has nuanced and elucidated this further. The Girl herself is always up for a dialogue with everyone in the world.

Research from the ‘Girl in the Spotlight’ project was published as a collection in Heritage Science, which you can find hereFor more information about the project, you can visit the Mauritshuis website.  

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