Her glance is tentative and shy; her eyes reflect a certain sense of innocence and purity; her perfectly oval countenance luminous and captivating, like the beautiful baroque pearl earring that adorns the young woman’s delicate earlobe. Immortalized on canvas by Johannes Vermeer in 1665, during the Dutch Golden Age, this oil painting on canvas is on display at the Hague in the Netherlands.

I wonder what compelled the Dutch master to paint this portrait. Did Vermeer use the ingenue’s seemingly ethereal features to highlight the loveliness of the pearl earring? Or did he see in the girl’s face the perfect complement to the lustrous piece of pearl jewelry? The answers to those questions will remain as mysterious as yet another one that I am seeking.

How does a creature as profoundly unattractive as an oyster create the masterpiece that is the pearl?