The Girl with the Pearl Earring, 1655 by Johannes Vermeer

The painting Girl with a Pearl Earring (DutchHet Meisje met de Parel) is one of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer‘s masterworks and, as the name implies, uses a pearl earring for a focal point. It has been in the collection of the Mauritshuis gallery in The Hague since 1902.* *Wikipedia

Moment 2 ~ Quantity (Universality) ‘AS IF’

A Mystery that is inviting me in.

For my work of art that could be considered beautiful, I chose Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, a 17th century Dutch artist. I have pulled quotes from one art critique and two “art and culture” news articles, all of which depict some sort of mystery behind the painting and who is in it. The meaning behind all of these articles is that even though we can point out the medium (oil on canvas), the technique, the dating, and the details in the painting itself, we do not know the person who’s likeness is the focal point of the image. It has been said to have been, quite possibly, Vermeer’s daughter, but without anyone from the time to answer our questions, that answer is lost to history. It leave open a “mystery that pulls you in”.

The moment I chose to highlight on in Kant’s Critique of Judgment is the second, The Judgement of Taste, According to Quantity (p.286). With universality its main argument, it give an ‘as if’ aspect, where we treat the object being judged ‘as if’ it were beautiful. Another point that drive my argument to the second moment is that this mystery of, “who is the girl in the painting”, does not directly tie to the painting itself (not the medium, technique, etc.). It comes from something that, from this quote from the Moments, “But from subjective universal validity, i.e. aesthetically and resting on no concept, we cannot infer that…the aesthetical universality which is ascribed to a judgement must be of a particular kind, because it does not quite the predicate of beauty withe the concept of the object,…,” (p. 289) is outside the artwork.

Someone may choose to disagree with the universality of Vermeer’s painting simply by stating that, “just because it has mystery outside of the art itself, doesn’t mean it is shared by ALL who see the work.” There is the potential that some people do not care for this art piece or that have no interest in oil paintings or their history, but Kant would argue that even though they don’t, maybe they ought to.

But the biggest mystery endures and that is a good thing, said Abbie Vandivere, the head of The Girl in the Spotlight research project.

“We were able to find out so much about Vermeer’s materials and techniques but we still don’t know exactly who the girl is,” she said. “It is good that some mysteries remain and everyone can speculate about her. It allows people their own personal interpretation of the girl; everyone feels their own connection with the way she meets your eyes.

“The fact that she is still a mystery keeps people coming back and keeps her exciting and fresh.”

Abbie Vandivere

“It is important to discuss briefly the philosophy of aesthetics that surrounds this analysis. With what mind is this analysis written, and what justifies the structure and content of this essay itself? The dismembering of art works into colours, dimensions, texture and techniques rationalises the process and takes away the immediate emotional and aesthetic affects of the painting. It takes away the mystery and the wonder that surrounds a painting, and reduces it to different logical elements and factors. The separation of form and content is false-an artwork is a piece whole in itself, and is not a conglomeration of different forms and elements when it is complete, but a work of creativity in and of itself.

            Nevertheless, it is important to analyse and critique a painting to logical forms-sometimes it is one of the most valuable ways of experiencing the painting at all.”

Dina Rashid

Why is Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring such a popular painting? Nicknamed the “Mona Lisa of the North,” it’s beginning to rival Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa masterpiece in terms of exposure. It’s been used on the cover of many art books, and you can now own the painting on cushions, coasters, T-shirts, bags, socks, suitcases, and more. The internet is brimming with images of the girl, either just as she is, or altered for our times: taking a selfie, styled into a manga comic character, riding on the back of a motorcycle (with Van Gogh as the driver). Banksy even turned her into graffiti on a Bristol wall, with a security alarm in place of her earring.



  1. haleykeith1 says:

    Hello Alexis,
    I enjoyed reading your thought process for how moment two plays out when looking at Girl with a Pearl Earring. I never considered a mystery as something that could indicate universality, but your argument made me think about how we do often share the sense of mystery.


    1. Alexis Derr says:

      Haley. “A mystery pulling you in” was a comment that Dr. Elkayam made while explaining the second moment. It was the thing that resonated most with me while trying to understand quantity and universality. When looking at works of art, it only makes sense that looking “as if” it is already beautiful can help you pass to the third moment. Choosing this piece, that mystery of “who is she” is one of the things that kept me coming back to the painting and looking at it longer. We know it CAN be beautiful, so we CAN pass the test to the next moment.


  2. blakeslade97 says:

    Hello Alexis(yes I’m very late), I appreciate your choice of the second moment, the unanswered questions and the mystery of who is in the painting is quite interesting, and makes the viewer wonder why he would choose this person as his subject without noting who they were or why they were important to him?


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