Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
After her father is blinded by an explosion at a kiln factory, sixteen-year-old Griet has to begin work as a maid in the household of painter Johannes Vermeer. Her wages will help sustain her newly poor family. The Vermeer household includes Catharina, Vermeer’s pregnant wife, who dislikes Griet on sight; Maria Thins, Catharina’s powerful mother; and five children—Maertge, Lisbeth, Cornelia, Aleydis, and baby Johannes. Griet immediately suspects that Cornelia will be a difficult child.
The family housekeeper, Tanneke, explains to Griet her duties as a maid, including washing, ironing, mending, cooking, shopping, and, most important, cleaning Vermeer’s studio. Griet is instructed to be extremely careful and to not move anything out of place. Griet thinks how difficult this could be, trying to dust under objects set up for painting, but she works out a method, using her arm and hand to measure distances between objects as she removes them. Vermeer approves of her cleaning.
Vermeer is working on a painting of the wife of his patron, Pieter van Ruijven. She is dressed in a yellow mantle trimmed with ermine and wearing a pearl necklace and pearl earrings. Griet is fascinated by the painting and yearns to know the painter.
On Sunday, her first day off (and the only one she will have each week), Griet visits her parents, who ply her with questions about the house and the painter. Griet describes the painting in detail to her...
(The entire section is 1012 words.)
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In her novel Girl With a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier tells the invented story of the girl who modeled for Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting by the same name.
It is 1664, and Griet, who is sixteen years old, must leave her family to work as a maid for the Vermeer family. Griet’s father is a well-respected man who used to paint tiles for a living. However, since he was blinded in an accident, his family has struggled. The painter Vermeer has agreed to take on a maid in order to help the family. Vermeer and his pregnant wife, Catharina, come to meet Griet. Griet is preparing vegetables for a soup and she has organized them by color in a circle. Vermeer instantly notices that she has arranged the vegetables by color and asks her how she decided to arrange her vegetables. Griet, who is always careful not to betray her feelings, does her best to avoid his questions. Catherina also inspects Griet’s work. She knocks a knife to the ground, and Griet quickly returns it to the table. When they leave, Griet presses her lips together, which is enough to signal her discomfort to her mother. However, Griet’s mother reminds her that their family is no longer able to support itself. Already, an attraction between Griet and Vermeer has been established—and it clearly threatens Catharina.
The Vermeer home, which is located in Papist’s Corner, a Catholic neighborhood within Delft, Holland, is unusual to Griet. She was raised a Protestant, and the paintings of religious scenes, such as the crucifixion, unnerve her. The family also surprises her, especially the children, of which there are several. Maertga is roughly the same age as Griet’s younger sister, Agnes. The younger daughter, Cornelia, catches Griet’s attention—she can tell Cornelia will make mischief. When Cornelia laughs at one of Griet’s instructions, the latter slaps her. Griet knows that this will not be her last confrontation with Cornelia.
The other maid, Tanneke, shows Griet around the home and explains her many duties. She spends a significant amount of time doing laundry, which she knows will dry and chap her hands. Another of her jobs is to go to the market to buy meat. The Vermeer family uses a different butcher than Griet’s. Griet feels turned off by Pieter the butcher and his son, also named Pieter, because they serve their customers in the same bloody apron in which they do their work and because their hands are bloody from...
(The entire section is 1634 words.)