Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis & Rembrandt’s Century
By Iride Aparicio

Pictures courtesy: of Fine Arts Museums of S.F.

JOHANNES VERMEER (Delft l632-1675)
Girl with the Pearl Earring oil in canvas

SAN FRANCISCO, CA –  For people in Holland, the high point of their visit to the Mauritshuis Museum, housed in an splendid seventeenth Century Palace in the Hague, is the opportunity to see VERMEER’s paintings specially Girl with the Pearl Earring, a picture of a young woman looking at us over her left shoulder allowing us to gaze straight into her eyes.

No one knows her identity, but people are attracted to the painting by the contrast of the girl's  lit cream-white face standing out against a black background. The model is believed to have been a Tronie, as the models for studies of heads and faces that portray “characters” were called. They constituted a different study of portraiture, because these models were anonymous and usually represented “characters.” The model for Girl with Pearl Earring looks like “a character” because the blue cloth wrapped around her forehead, part of a turban like headdress, was not something girls wore in Holland at the time, thus giving her an “exotic” air.

The aura of peace and harmony that emanates from her big gray-blue eyes, as she turns her head, give us the impression that she just became aware of our presence, and as we glance at her, her gaze, allows us to look straight into her eyes.

The name of the picture, however, is derived from her large pearl earring, on which one can see a smaller version of the contrast of light and shadow that the portrait has, with the light falling on the pearl from the right side given it sheen and roundness. The picture is so lovely, that it is no wonder it is one of the best-loved paintings in the world.

In San Francisco until June 2, those visiting  the exhibition at the de Young Museum, will  have the opportunity to see the Girl with a Pearl Earring, at the exhibition of the same name which includes other masterful Dutch paintings from the Mauritshuis, and also at the de Young, the marvelous collection of sketches from European Artists, printers and engravers from the seventeenth Century, in the exhibition by the name of  Rembrandt’s Century.

Art is and always has been a graphic display of social values, and “THE DUTCH GOLDEN AGE,” represented in the paintings, shows the time in Dutch History when the new consolidated Dutch Republic produced a great number of skilled artists and when, according so some writers’ speculation, five million pictures were painted.

The Dutch paintings of the seventeenth Century reflect the economic, political and cultural elements of this society from which one can see the interiors of middle class homes where groups of friends or families sit together surrounded by children, musicians, and servers,  in perfect communal harmony. A typical picture describing the century is JAN STEEN’s Oil on canvas painting “As the Old sing, So twitter the Young”

JAN STEEN (Leiden l6261679)
“As the Old Sing, So Twitter the Young”

The name of this painting comes from the sheet music held by the grandmother at the table, who appears to follow the lyrics of a song with her finger, as she sings the Dutch variation of the proverb “As the old sings (As the old behave) so do the children.” (By following their example)  The painting, (measuring  52 ¾  feet by 64 ½) is STEEN's graphic representation of this  proverb.

His oil on canvas picture depicts three generations of a family who is celebrating the baptism of the child, dressed in orange, laying on his mother’s lap. To describe its theme better, the painting shows a man, (on the left corner) wearing a “New Father’s” hat, looking like a crown, that in Holland, was worn to indicate the father of the new baptized child. At the right, of the father, there is a woman holding a glass on her hand as a servant pours more wine in it. By her drinking, this woman is giving a poor example to the children. At the right side of the picture, a father  is giving a worse example to her son by holding a long white pipe on his right hand and  teaching the boy to smoke.

MEINDERT HOBBEMA (Amsterdam 1638-l709
Wooded Landscape with Cottages

Along with portraits of individuals and groups, the Dutch painters painted the characteristics of the Dutch landscapes: grayish skies, dozens of shades of green in the trees and fields and more grey to depict the canals, lakes, or rivers.

In the seventeen century, there was a group of Dutch painters who devoted themselves to this genre and specialized in motifs depicting wood cottages, fields with cows grazing, or fields being crossed by horseback riders, dogs, or running children. Often with the human activities interwoven with the natural surroundings.

One of these landscapes' painters was MEINDERT HOBBEMA  who painted over 140 paintings of landscapes with a repertoire limited to cottages, water mills and groups of trees, yet managed to create surprising compositions.

In his wooden landscape with cottages, (shown above) the composition of the picture is dominated by the trees, but if we look attentively between their trunks, we see a sunlit area with a house and a shaded cottage to the left, with the three items forming a perfect triangular shaped composition.  The sun drenched distant view of the lake, is a characteristic of this painter who gave depth to his scenes by distant views.  This picture is considered one of highlights of the Dutch landscape paintings. 


During the Dutch Golden Age, the seventeenth Century was also the most dynamic period in the European print production with etchings and prints  created in vast numbers by painters and professional print makers. Rembrandt van Rijn was the most influential graphic artists of his generation.

Rembrant Harmensz Van Rinjn
Rembrandt Harmensz Van Rinjn (1606-1669)

Etchings are created by producing a pattern or design on a hard material by using a laser beam or acid to “eat” into the material’s surface. It is also defined as to engrave by the corrosive action of an acid so as to form a design or picture in furrows, which when charged with ink, will give an impression on paper.

Most of the seventeen century prints are binary in nature, their visual drama derived, in part, by the interaction of the liquid ink on the absorbent paper. Yet the most important effect in all of them, is the latter called Chiaro oscuro effect, which is created by the contrast of the black ink on the white paper.

REMBRANT’s etchings remain among the most studied and collected from the period.. Using a mirror, he made more self-portraits that any of his contemporaries, and as a print maker, he never avoided extremes.  In his Self Portrait (shown above), the original etch of which is displayed in the exhibition, the artist shows his use of  “extreme of darkness” by  painting himself inside a completely dark room, dressed in dark clothes, sitting at an almost invisible desk or table,  yet  one could see clearly the expression on his sad eyes and all the details of his face, because the light filtrating through the window illuminates the right side of his body including his right hand holding a pen on its fingers, and the sheets of  paper he is  using in his sketch

The Large Cat 
Engraving 1657.

Domesticated animal etchings appear frequently in the seventeenth century.  VISSCHER’s  Large Cat,  (shown above) dates from the end of his very productive career.

The print tells a story which appears to be that as the cat took a break from chasing a mouse, the mouse he was chasing now stands quietly behind him as if thinking if it is safe for him (the mouse) to run away.

The composition of the print is interesting because the darkness, on the back of a cat, creates the contrast that allows us to see the white mouse. This print is the most famous animal printing of the century.

It would be impossible to describe these exhibitions in words. In these case both needed  to be experienced by actually looking at their pictures. While the prints are taken from the archives of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the exhibition of the paintings from the MAURITSHUIS Gallery, is the product of years of work and many people working to put it together. According to the information given to the press, this exhibition began to take shape in 2009 and it is the result of the determination of the late JOHN E BUCHANAN, Jr. former director of the Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco.

The de Young museum is located on 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park in S.F.  For tickets information and Museum’s hours  one can call at (415) 750-3000 or go online to