You know this picture, right?
It’s the Girl with the Pearl Earring, painted by Johannes Vermeer and it may well be one of the most famous paintings in the world. You can find it in the Dutch National Gallery, or the Mauritshuis, in The Hague.
It’s funny to even imagine that Vermeer never made much money off of his paintings, that his oeuvre was small and that, for quite a while, he was simply forgotten. Not like Rembrandt. Probably more like Van Gogh.
This painting was painted at a time that the Dutch Republic went through its most turbulent period in history. A small country but a world player, and therefore it was threatened by power struggles and wars with England and France. Yet Vermeer withdrew to his studio and painted interiors of quiet and peace. His paintings don’t merely exude beauty but a serenity that was in sharp contrast with daily life in the Dutch Republic at the time.
I read an essay once (and sorry, I have this book somewhere on my bookshelves but my time is limited– just got home and want to deliver a diary entry before the night falls and darkness does, in Milton’s words, become truly visible) and well, anyway, in that essay there was this Justice at the Peace Palace in The Hague (The International Court of International Justice that rules on murky matters such as genocide and human rights violations) and he said that during difficult court hearings, he made time to visit The Girl with the Pearl Earring to regain his balance and inner peace. I’m sure I’m not paraphrasing this properly but I hope you get the gist.
The gist being that no matter how turbulent, crazy and cruel our times will be, people will continue to create works of great beauty, peace and humanity, and therein lies our survival and hope and compassion.
Hold onto that beauty and if you can’t find it within yourself or others, go seek it out, in theater, museums, nature, through charity, through friends. Focus on that, which doesn’t mean withdrawing or not partaking, but let’s preserve our integrity by finding solace in beauty and reflection. Or if you believe in God, prayer does in fact come close to matters of beauty and meditation. Take a look at those Vermeer paintings: there’s much reflection and prayer in them.
So…. If Vermeer could create above picture when the Dutch felt the world was going to blow up, you can create a safe zone for yourself, your kids, your friends and your loved ones. Hope only becomes hopeless if we give up on the notion itself. Cherish the beauty around you and you’ll find the beauty within…