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by Tracy Chevalier

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 2000
ISBN: 0-525-94527-X
Publisher: Dutton

England-based Chevalier’s first US appearance is another novel based on a painting of Vermeer (see Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue, p. 998). The tale this time is told—alluringly indeed—by the housemaid who sat as model for the painting in question. Griet is only 16, in 1664, when she’s hired as a maid in the grand Delft household of Johannes Vermeer, who practices the Catholic faith and has a family consisting of wife, mother-in-law, cook, and 5 children (by story’s end there will be 11). Griet’s own faith is Protestant, and her humble family has been made even poorer since her father, a tile-painter, had an accident that left him blind. Hard-working and sweet-tempered Griet is taken on, then, partly as an act of charity, but the austere and famous painter is struck by her sensitive eye for color and balance, and after a time he asks her to grind paints for him in his attic studio—and perhaps begins falling in love with her, as she certainly does with him. Let there be no question, however, of anything remotely akin to declared romance, the maid’s station being far, far below the eminent painter’s, not to mention that his bitterly jealous wife Catharine remains sharply resentful of any least privilege extended to Griet—a complication that Vermeer resolves simply through intensified secrecy. There’s a limit, though, to how much hiding can be done in a single house however large, and when Griet begins sitting for Vermeer (his patron, the lecherous Ruijven, who has eyes—and hands—for Griet, brings it about), suspicions rise. That’s as nothing, though, to the storm that sweeps the house and all but brings about Griet’s very ruin when Catharine discovers that the base-born maid has committed the thieving travesty of wearing her pearl earrings. Courageous Griet, though, proves herself a survivor in this tenderhearted and sharp-eyed ramble through daily life—and high art—in 17th-century Delft. Another small and Vermeer-inspired treasure.