Griet is a sixteen-year-old girl who is forced to work as a maid due to her family’s poor financial situation. She ends up working in the Vermeer household and soon becomes the personal assistant of Johannes Vermeer, helping him in his art studio. Griet is portrayed as intelligent, beautiful, and modest. She works hard to support her family, but is eventually forced to leave the Vermeer household by Johannes Vermeer’s wife, Catharina. Griet is presented as the girl depicted in Vermeer’s painting, "Girl with a Pearl Earring."
Johannes Vermeer is a painter based on the historical figure of the same name. He takes Griet into his household as a maid, but ends up making her his personal assistant. He is a mysterious figure, but grows fond of Griet. After his death, Griet discovers that he left her the pearl earrings she wore in his portrait in his will.
Catharina Bolnes Vermeer
Catharina Bolnes Vermeer is Johannes Vermeer’s wife, who becomes jealous of Griet after her husband takes her as his personal assistant. When Catharina discovers that Griet has posed for the portrait while wearing her pearl earrings, Catharina forces her to leave the household.
Maria Thins is Catharina’s mother and Johannes Vermeer’s mother-in-law. Maria Thins treats Griet much better than her daughter does, and is often friendly with Griet.
Maertge is the eldest daughter of the Vermeer family. She and Griet are on relatively friendly terms, and they remain in contact even after Griet no longer works for the family.
Cornelia is one of the two younger daughters of the Vermeer family. Unlike Maertge, Cornelia dislikes Griet, and the two do not get along. Cornelia often does things to get Griet in trouble, and antagonizes her in other ways as well.
Tanneke is Griet’s fellow servant in the Vermeer household. Tanneke introduces Griet to her duties as a maid and has an ambivalent relationship with her, sometimes being supportive and sometimes being resentful.
Pieter the Younger
Pieter is the butcher’s son and Griet’s suitor. He acts flirtatiously when she goes to the market to buy meat. The two end up getting married and having children years after Griet’s departure from the Vermeer household.
Agnes is Griet’s younger sister. When the plague hits Griet’s family’s neighborhood, Agnes gets ill and dies.
Pieter van Ruijven
Pieter van Ruijven is Vermeer’s patron who requests to be painted with Griet. However, Griet knows that the last maid to be painted with van Ruijven was impregnated by him, and therefore she refuses. Vermeer instead paints a portrait of Griet by herself for van Ruijven, in which Griet wears Catharina’s pearl earrings.
Frans is Griet's brother. He is an apprentice in a tile-making workshop, but after becoming involved with the wife of his master he quits his apprenticeship and flees the city.
The youngest daughter of Vermeer and Catharina.
The second daughter of Vermeer and Catharina.
The first son of Vermeer and Catharina. He is an infant when Griet begins working for the family.
The second son of Catharina and Vermeer. He is born while Griet is working for the family.
Griet's father made his living painting tiles but has lost his income after being blinded in a workplace accident. He is interested in questions of art and experiences beyond his own, but he is also unsure of how to navigate the unfamiliar.
Griet's mother is pragmatic and understands the value of stability and a secure income. She insists on her daughter going to work for the Vermeer household; over time, however, she becomes anxious about the influence this position is having on her daughter.
Willem is the brother of Catharina and the son of Maria Thins. He is insane, and one day he attacks Catharina in the street while she is pregnant.
A friend of Vermeer, who helps him with his paintings by providing him with tools such as a camera obscura. van Leeuwenhoek is based on a historical figure who contributed to the development of the microscope and the field of microbiology. In the novel, he shows sympathy and concern for Griet.
The Butcher (Pieter the Elder)
Pieter the Elder is the son of Griet's suitor Pieter, and becomes her father-in-law. He provides meat to the Vermeer family, and it is through her employment with them that Griet meets him and his son.
Girl With a Pearl Earring Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Girl With a Pearl Earring is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Creativity is a theme in the novel in that it is a large part of the bond that draws Griet and Vermeer together. Even at the beginning of the novel, when Griet is uneducated and has had little exposure to art,...
Vermeer's clean hands contrast with Pieter's. Pieter always has blood under his nails, something Griet finds repulsive. She likes the cleanliness of Vermeer's hands. Hands are significant to Griet because they represent who she was....