Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science

The Girl in the spotlight

A technical (re-)examination of Vermeer's Girl with a pearl earring

A scientific re-examination of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665) will take place in front of the public in the Gouden Zaal of the Mauritshuis between 26 February and 12 March 2018.

Our research questions are:

  • What steps did Vermeer take to create the painting?
  • What can we find out about layers beneath the surface?
  • How does the painting look at a microscopic level?
  • Which materials did Vermeer use and where did they come from?
  • Which techniques did Vermeer use to create subtle optical effects?
  • What did the painting look like originally, and how has it changed?

Major advances in non-invasive technical analysis have been made over the last two decades. The techniques that will be used during the technical examination include: macro-xray fluorescence (MA-XRF scanning), macro x-ray powder diffraction (MA-XRPD scanning), Reflectance Imaging Spectroscopy (RIS), Scanning Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), high spatial and transmitted IRR, topography/gloss/colour scanning, and x-radiography. It will be accompanied by findings from the (re-)examination of samples taken during the 1994 treatment.

This combination of imaging and sample analysis will help us understand Vermeer’s materials and techniques, and allow the museum public to discover what lies beneath the surface of The Girl.


Screen shot of Curtain Viewer, created by Rob Erdmann.

Principal researcher

  • Abbie Vandivere (Mauritshuis)


Research team

  • Klaas Jan van den Berg
  • Joris Dik
  • Rob Erdmann
  • Robert van Langh
  • Annelies van Loon

Institutions involved

  • Mauritshuis
  • Rijksmuseum
  • Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam (STCA)
  • Delft University of Technology
  • University of Antwerp
  • National Gallery of Art (Washington)
  • Hirox
  • CATS (Copenhagen)
  • Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands
  • VU University Amsterdam
  • Maastricht University

Expected completion date

  • February – March 2018 (Technical examination).
  • Mid – 2019 (Dissemination through publications, symposia, websites).

Published by  NICAS

14 November 2017