Ask the average person to name a piece of artwork which incorporates a pearl or a pearl-related theme, and the most popular response is likely to be “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” the 1665 masterpiece by Jan Vermeer. Having “Pearl” in the title makes it a bit of an easy choice (and being the title of a Hollywood movie starring Scarlett Johansson probably doesn’t hurt, either). But the truth is that pearls have been showcased in art for centuries, reflecting society’s continuing obsession with these beautiful gemstones.
Vermeer’s work is by no means the only famous painting with a pearl theme, nor is it one of the oldest. Take, for example, The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. Painted circa 1485, this classic rendering is of the Goddess Venus, nude and standing in a shell, emerging from the sea as a fully-grown woman, her golden hair flowing over her shoulders. This beautiful work of art has become synonymous with beauty the world over.
For a breathtaking although somewhat more obscure piece, look to “Water” by Guiseppe Arcimboldo. (If you’re a fan of the band “Kansas,” you may recognize this painting as the cover artwork from their album entitled “Masque.”) “Water” features individual pieces of coral and fish compiled to create an overall image of a woman wearing a pearl necklace and earrings. It is both beautiful and thought-provoking.
Stroll through any classic art gallery and you’ll find pearls around the necks of queens and ladies of the court produced by artists the world over. And with the world’s continuing love of both pearls and art, pearls are likely to continue to inspire artists for centuries to come, the art pieces serving as timeless tributes to such a beautiful gem.