Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer (c. 1665) is the most beloved painting in the collection of the Mauritshuis. The Girl was last examined during a 1994 restoration treatment, within the project Vermeer Illuminated.
In February-March 2018, the Girl was re-examined in front of museum visitors at the Mauritshuis. Several complementary imaging techniques were employed, including: technical photography, multispectralinfrared reflectography, reflectance and fluorescence imaging spectroscopy (hyperspectral imaging), fibreoptic reflectance spectroscopy (FORS), multi-scale scanning optical coherence tomography (MS-OCT), 3D colour/(gloss)/topography scanning, 3Ddigital microscopy, macroscopicX-ray fluorescence (MA-XRF) and macroscopicX-ray powder diffraction (MA-XRPD). Also, the samples mounted in 1994 were re-examined, and new forms of microscopic, organic and inorganic analysis were carried out to identify the pigments and binding media. Advances in computation and data science allow the results of these techniques to be co-registered and compared, and new results to be generated.
These complementary research methods have allowed the Girl in the Spotlight team to: visualise and identify materials at and beneath the surface of the painting, scan the surface topography, and examine the surface at an extremely high magnification. Ultimately, they reveal the steps Vermeer took to create the iconic image of the Girl using layers of paint and subtle optical effects. They also provide valuable information about how the painting originally looked, and the changes that have occurred over time.
The research team was led by Mauritshuis paintings conservator Abbie Vandivere. The Girl in the Spotlight was a Mauritshuis initiative and involved a team of internationally recognised specialists associated with the Netherlands Institute for Conservation+Art+Science+ (NICAS: Rijksmuseum, TU Delft, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) and the University of Amsterdam), together with the University of Antwerp, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam, Hirox Europe, the National Gallery of Art, Washington and many other partners.