Vermeer had eleven children to feed and depended on rents brought in by his mother-in-law, Maria Thins, for pursuing his passion to paint. In the end a ruinous war destroyed the art market and a defensive measure by the Dutch to flood the lowlands by opening the dykes inundated his mother-in-law's rental houses. That brought on destitution for the Vermeer family; he descended into despondency and mania and died, leaving behind 34 works, now considered priceless.
The novel is not literary, but there are several quotes that stand out:
In the painting the pearl is small, said Thommo. But it seems larger than most pearls drooping from women's ears in modern times. Who commissioned the painting? Was it Van Ruijven, the patron of Vermeer, who ended up historically owning about 20 of Vermeer's paintings more than half his output? That is how the novel makes it out to be.
Griet has been working at the Vermeer household for a while. When she visits her parents on Sunday her father, a tile-painter, now gone blind from an accident, interrogates her about her master's paintings. She describes the painting Woman With a Water Jug in graphic terms so he could envision it in his mind.
He gets confused by her description and asks in the end for clarification: “But what is the story in the painting?” Griet answers that her master's paintings ‘don't tell stories.’
Griet accompanies the senior servant, Tanneke, to the meat market to buy stuff for the Vermeers. It was to a different butcher she went, not the one her father's household used. She feels the tang of blood in the air and the smell of meat markets, and notes that Pieter, the butcher for the Vermeer household, is less meticulous about keeping his apron clean of spots of blood. Further on Griet confesses: “I crushed lavender and hid it under my chemise to mask the smell of meat that seemed to hang about me even when I was far from the Meat Hall.”
In this passage Griet humours her father who smells linseed oil on her and wants to know what Vermeer is painting. But instead of describing the painting being done of her (Girl with a Pearl Earring), which would have been awkward, she describes the second painting Vermeer was doing at the same time, (The Concert). “A young woman sits at a harpsichord, playing. She is wearing a yellow and black bodice ....” Griet's father is amused that Van Ruijven appears in the painting in the pose of playing a lute, for he plays the lute badly.
Pieter comes on Sundays to their home in the form of a suitor, accepted, nay encouraged, by Griet's mother. He never inquired why Griet smelled of linseed oil, or sought any other particulars of her life in the Vermeer household.
Zakia referred to a large mural on exhibit in the Kochi Muziris Biennale currently in session. Lots of colours have been kept beside the mural to show the sources from which they have been obtained. The muralist P.K. Sadanandan does not use chemically derived dyes and this entails his having to do a lot of research to find the exact shades required. See
center and looked down at the pearls in my hand. I could not keep them. What would I do with them? I could not tell Pieter how I came to have them—it would mean explaining everything that had happened so long ago. I could not wear the earrings anyway—a butcher’s wife did not wear such things, no more than a maid did.
“What have you been doing here, Griet?” he asked.
My father wanted me to describe the painting once more. “But nothing has changed since the last time,” I said. “I want to hear it again,” he insisted, hunching over in his chair to get nearer to the fire. He sounded like Frans when he was a little boy and had been told there was nothing left to eat in the hotpot. My father was often impatient during March, waiting for winter to end, the cold to ease, the sun to reappear. March was an unpredictable month, when it was never clear what might happen. Warm days raised hopes until ice and grey skies shut over the town again.