Delft, Holland, 1665. After her father is blinded in an explosion, 17-year-old Griet (Scarlett Johansson
) must work to support her family. She becomes a maid in the home of Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth
) and gradually attracts the master painter’s attention. Though worlds apart in upbringing, education and social standing, Vermeer recognizes Griet’s intuitive understanding of color and light and slowly draws her into the mysterious world of his paintings. Vermeer is a perfectionist, often taking months to finish a painting. His shrewish mother-in-law struggles to maintain the family’s lavish lifestyle on the income from his meagre output. Seeing that Griet inspires Vermeer, she takes the dangerous decision to allow their clandestine relationship to develop.
Griet also contends with the attentions of Vermeer’s patron, the wealthy and lascivious Master van Ruijven, who is frustrated that his money does not buy him control over the artist. While Griet falls increasingly under Vermeer’s spell, she cannot be sure of his feelings for her. The Machiavellian van Ruijven, sensing the intimacy between master and maid, gleefully contrives a commission for Vermeer to paint Griet alone. The result will be one of the greatest paintings ever created, but at what cost?