Three paintings by Jan Vermeer

It’s not a picture of a girl, but a picture of someone painting a girl. In Islam it might be considered an act of sacrilege. The man is creating her anew, creating her in her own image. First she will be wreathed, as in victory, then the rest of her will follow.

In her hand she holds a trumpet. It draws the eye, and perhaps can also call forth the angels. Or maybe a talisman.

A Girl Asleep

You can still feel the presence behind her, as though he just left. His chair is pulled out from the table, and the cloth pulled up. He’s left her sleeping while sitting up, lightly balanced on her arm, the wine in the foreground. She was too tired. Another time, perhaps, another time.

She looks back, mouth opened slightly as to say something. Her pale lips are luminous against the pearl of her skin. Somewhere her turban transitions from blue to pale brown to sea green, like the sky moving into the land and the water. You wait for her to speak, to invite you somewhere, but the tension is never resolved. This all happened a long time ago, and the words are lost. You only remember it like a mute dream, like someone else’s secret.

The background is black. You cannot see where she is or any source of natural light. But she is there. Speaking to you. Inviting you to come with her.


The Girl with the Pearl Earring is currently on display at the De Young Museum in San Francisco on loan from Mauritshuis in the Hague. Admission is 25$ and entirely worth it.

A Girl Asleep is part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and is not allowed on loan.

The Art of Painting is part of the permanent collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It is subject to legal action because it was purchased from its original owners by Adolf Hitler.

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