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As Richly Lustrous As A Vermeer,
This review is from: Girl With a Pearl Earring (Paperback)
Vermeer was a seventeenth-century Delft painter who is known for his uncanny ability to use and capture light. He recorded the simple, yet intimate, activities of daily goings-on with a balance and detail that brought the very breath of life to his paintings. Tracy Chevalier, in Girl With a Pearl Earring, uses this same balance and detail to tell the story of Griet, a sixteen-year old servant girl working in Vermeer's household.
Although strong in both mind and body, Griet comes from a poverty-stricken family. Her father, once a skilled painter of Delft tiles, has been blinded in a kiln explosion. It is the shy and naive Griet who seeks to provide the wages needed for the family's survival. In the Vermeer household, Griet must cope with seemingly endless loads of laundry and meals, five small children and Vermeer's continually-pregnant wife, Catharina. It is her artist's eye, however, that sets her apart from the other servants, for Griet can clean the master's studio without having seemed to have touched a thing.
This book is woven around one of Vermeer's most famous paintings, The Girl With a Pearl Earring. It is a painting that is different from the religious scenes and those of daily life in Delft, so typical of Vermeer. The story is told from the point-of-view of Griet, the eventual model for the painting, rather than Vermeer, and it is filled with a young and fresh look at the daily details of life in 1660s Delft. We learn of the canals and the markets as well as the creation of Vermeer's masterpieces.
Griet's story is a complex one as she struggles to make a real place for herself in the Vermeer household. As a Protestant, she is looked upon with suspicion by most of the members of this Catholic home, but she nevertheless attracts a young suitor who is determined to marry her, as she comes to play a major role in Vermeer's life as a helper who can not only clean his studio and organize his paints, but can actually help him to compose his paintings as well.
The emotional tone of Girl With a Pearl Earring is perfect. Griet is a fully-realized character; a child growing into an adult, with just the right mix of girlish ways and budding maturity. The detail of daily life is also rendered so finely and precisely that we feel we can actually smell the meat halls of Delft, hear the lively bustle of city life and suffer the quiet tragedy of a quarantine.
Chevalier also weaves details from Vermeer's paintings into her story of Griet. The result is a book that is vibrantly alive and lustrously rich. It is an education in art history for those who would otherwise let it pass them by. A tapestry of beauty that pulls the reader in from beginning to end, Girl With a Pearl Earring is a fascinating story and a fascinating look at life in Renaissance Delft that will reward anyone who reads it.