Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is going on show in the city of Bologna in Italy next month but the arrival of the celebrated painting of a young beauty is already causing a stir.
"There is an incredible fever surrounding this painting," the director of the exhibition, Marco Goldin, told AFP-TV at a press presentation.
"Clearly we are expecting a big success. In just a few weeks we have already sold 100,000 tickets," he said -- for an exhibition opening on February 8.
The masterpiece is considered one of the most famous paintings in the world along with Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" and Edvard Munch's "The Scream".
The show on the Golden Age of Dutch painting at Palazzo Fava in Bologna is being organised together with the Mauritshuis museum in the Hague and runs until May 25.
Mauritshuis, which is under restoration, is also loaning Vermeer's "Diana and Her Companions" and works by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Ter Borch and Claesz.
"Girl with a Pearl Earring" is finishing up a world tour after being taken to Japan in 2012 and the United States in 2013. Bologna will be its only stop in Europe, before it is returned to the Mauritshuis.
"This is the first time it comes to Italy," Goldin said.
He explained that thanks to his relationship with Mauritshuis he had "managed to capture the painting against competition from many other museums".
The painting's fame has grown in recent years after it inspired a book and a film starring Scarlett Johansson.
Goldin warned it should not be seen as a "pop icon" but as "a sublime representation of beauty in art".