Girl With a Pearl Earring

Girl With a Pearl Earring Summary and Analysis of Part 2 of 1665


By May, Vermeer has finished his painting of the baker's daughter, which pleases the baker. The earnings from the painting are modest, however, and when Vermeer delays beginning a new painting, the household starts to become anxious. Eventually, van Ruijven commissions another portrait of his wife, this time with her face turned towards the painter. Griet overhears Maria and Catharina discussing Vermeer's use of this pose, and recalling how the last time he used it was to paint one of van Ruijven's maids. Sensing that there is more to the story, Griet questions Pieter, who explains that van Ruijven commissioned a portrait of one of his maids, arranging for her to be dressed in one of his wife's gowns. He also made sure she consumed wine during the sittings; by the time the portrait was completed, he had seduced and impregnated her.

As Vermeer begins his portrait, Griet helps him as he determines the composition and coloration. One day, van Leeuwenhoek comes to visit and is surprised to find Griet helping in the studio. As the painting progresses, Griet senses that something is not right with the composition and eventually determines the change she thinks should be made. She waits to see if Vermeer will discover that this change needs to be made; when he does not, she adjusts the draping of the cloth one day while she is cleaning. She then waits anxiously for Vermeer's reaction. He does not immediately say anything, but he also does not reposition the cloth. The next day he asks her why she changed the cloth, and she explains the need for visual disorder in the painting.

As Griet becomes more excited about talking about Vermeer's paintings during her visits home, her mother becomes dubious and rebukes her for becoming too attached to the values she is learning there. Griet feels guilty, and the following day she asks Vermeer if his paintings are Catholic paintings. Vermeer points out that the distinction is not as great as she thinks, and also explains that he was raised Protestant and only converted at the time of his marriage.

Catharina becomes uncomfortable since her jewelry box is required for the painting and its being locked in the studio means that Griet has access to it. Maertje, who has become close to Griet, confides that her mother has told Vermeer that either the jewelry box must be removed, or that Griet must stop sleeping in the attic. Griet realizes that her time as Vermeer's assistant is likely coming to an end. Vermeer, however, comes up with a solution, removing the jewelry box every night and returning it every morning.

Cornelia senses the closeness between Griet and her father, and proves disruptive again. One day, Catharina alerts the household that one of her tortoiseshell combs is missing. Griet goes to check her own possessions; sure enough, the missing comb has been planted there, replacing the one Griet brought with her. Since Vermeer is working in the studio, Griet tells him what has happened. With the help of Catharina and Maria, they search Cornelia's room until they find the comb Cornelia has swapped in order to make Griet look guilty of theft. Cornelia is beaten as punishment. Afterwards, Maria explains to Griet that she has made enemies, but that she has also displayed power because Vermeer supported her. Maria also reveals that she told Catharina that Griet has been working as Vermeer's assistant. Catharina was unhappy with the news but not overly threatened, as she is now pregnant again. Shortly thereafter, Griet returns the comb to her mother.

Griet now finds herself treated with a new respect by the household, though she is resentful that Vermeer did not intervene more directly on her behalf. In October, Vermeer has almost completed the painting; in Griet’s presence, Maria discusses with Vermeer what he should paint next. She tells him he needs to paint to a larger group portrait, because this will make more money and the household is in need of the money. Vermeer expresses worry that if he does so, van Ruijven will want Griet to be featured in the painting, but Maria tells him they will deal with that situation if and when it arises. A few days later, the van Ruijvens come to dinner to celebrate the completion of the painting, and Maria arranges that Griet help serve the dinner. She immediately attracts the attention of van Ruijven, and when the subject of a group of musicians is proposed for the next painting, Griet hears van Ruijven say that he wants Griet included in the painting.

Griet does not hear anything else on the subject until her mother tells her that rumors are circulating that Vermeer is going to paint Griet. She denies the gossip but later confronts Maria about it. Griet expresses her resistance to posing alongside van Ruijven, and Maria explains that Vermeer does not want that either. However, the situation is complicated because the family is dependent on the patronage of the wealthy van Ruijven. Maria says she is trying to determine how to resolve the problem but that in the meantime, Griet will have to tolerate the rumors. She does, however, explain to Pieter that she has no desire to be painted; he points out that she will likely be powerless to resist.

Vermeer begins to prepare for the music scene painting, a group portrait that will feature van Ruijven, his sister, and one of his daughters. Maria arranges to send Griet out of the house when van Ruijven visits, but they both know this is a temporary solution. Griet impulsively decides to go and visit her brother, and is surprised to find that he is still being assigned menial tasks at the tile workshop. Frans explains that he is in trouble with the master after having an affair with the master's wife. She scolds him, but he points out that she is not so different, making it clear that he knows that she is attracted to Vermeer.

When Griet returns to the house, she runs into van Ruijven and gathers from his comments to Vermeer that an additional painting has been commissioned. The next day, when Vermeer summons her to the studio and begins posing her, she realizes that he is beginning a portrait of her.


Griet's time working alongside Vermeer bolsters her confidence and sharpens her attention to visual detail. Her intervention in the composition of the second portrait of van Ruijven's wife signals a new self-confidence in her: in addition to noticing things, she changes them to align with her vision. This confidence is rewarded when Vermeer approves of her change, expressing surprise at the astute judgment and innate talent Griet demonstrates. As Pauline Morel writes, "Griet, however, with her natural visual sense, does not need the camera to perceive what is missing or faulty in a painting" (72).

The act of moving the cloth is symbolically important because it shows character development in Griet: she was initially brought into the household precisely because she had a talent for being almost invisible, and not leaving any traces of her presence when she cleaned the studio. Now she begins to deliberately leave a mark. By recognizing the need for disorder in the painting, Griet also reflects the way that individuals are often unwillingly drawn towards risk and danger. Just as the seemingly orderly composition should be more pleasing to the eye, it would make sense that Griet and Vermeer confined their interactions to a professional relationship. But in both cases, messiness and ambiguity prove more pleasurable.

As the sexual tension between Griet and Vermeer simmers in secret, van Ruijven becomes more explicit about his interest in Griet. There is no doubt that his desire for her to be included in a painting with him has sexual implications, as the story of the previous maid who he seduced while she was being painted makes clear. This story also reveals the dangers for Griet: if she falls prey to van Ruijven's advances, he will almost certainly discard her sooner or later, and she will be left with no recourse and a ruined reputation. This threat explains why both Maria and Vermeer strive to protect Griet from being painted. Vermeer additionally has his own attraction to her making him possessive. However, neither of them can ultimately afford to anger van Ruijven, and must be content with the compromise of having Griet pose alone for a portrait for van Ruijven.

Griet is aware of these tensions around the idea of her being painted. Even when the idea is only a rumor, it has a damaging effect on her social reputation and even on relations with her own family. In an era where modesty was strongly prized for women, the idea of a young woman's physical likeness being displayed to be openly gazed at was seen as aggressive and evidence of possible sexual promiscuity. Griet also knows that a portrait commodifies her body and appearance so that a likeness can be bought and sold, traded and exchanged. There is a subtle allusion to this use of portraiture as a form of prostitution in that when Griet goes to the studio on the day that Vermeer begins posing her, she sees a painting depicting arrangements being made for the sale of a prostitute's services. While she has worked so hard throughout the novel to avoid participation in the sexual economy circulating around her, she now finds herself pulled into it.

While Griet is disempowered in exerting her will because of her class and gender position, she is also made more vulnerable because of her attraction to Vermeer. She finds it difficult to refuse him and while she is ambivalent about being painted, she also experiences pleasure in it. When Griet learns that her brother Frans has been having an affair with his master's wife, she initially chastises him for reckless and dangerous behavior. She can't deny the hypocrisy she feels, however, when he points out how an attraction to power and wealth can easily bleed into physical desire, creating a potent combination that is very difficult to resist. Because he has had similar experiences, Frans is shrewdly able to observe and call out Griet's desire for Vermeer, forcing her to confront an awareness of the truth she has been attempting to hide from herself.