Rather than a portrait, Vermeer painted an idealised girl’s face. A girl from Delft probably posed as the model, but Vermeer painted her wearing a headdress that wouldn’t have been worn by Dutch women at that time. This made the painting even more fascinating to look at. Vermeer turned his model into a kind of supermodel.
Paintings like this were called ‘tronies’ in the 17th century. This work was then described a ‘tronie painted in the Turkish style’ or a ‘tronie in the antique style’.
The fun of an anonymous girl like this is that you, the viewer, can decide who she is. What’s her background? What does she do? What does she worry about? What are her dreams? You can fill it all in for yourself. The best-known story about this girl is by Tracy Chevalier. She wrote Girl with a Pearl Earring and named the girl Griet. The book was turned into a film starring Scarlett Johansson.