This famous image by Johannes Vermeer has been the subject of almost equally famous texts, including Tracy Chevalier’s novel that fictionalizes the girl’s story. Lawrence Wechsler did an extended close reading of this portrait in the title essay of his book Vermeer in Bosnia. In it he cited an even more extended 20-page close reading by art historian Edward Snow of the portrait. Snow posed an arresting visual question: is this girl turning toward us or away from us? He cited evidence (the fall of the turban, the angle of her face) and then speculated about its meaning: what story does each visual interpretation imply? Wechsler used the image to illuminate the essence of individuality itself: the girl’s gaze defines her uniqueness. Ironically this has not been reflected in the image’s title: it has alternately been known as “Girl with Turban,” “Head of a Young Girl,” and “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (especially since the popular novel and film). Despite her apparent individuality, Vermeer did not name this girl and neither can we.
Is this image somehow essentially double or ambiguous? What oppositions are at work and where do you see them?
Click here to watch a YouTube video of an artist copying this painting with a Bic pen.