Through The Looking Glass of Art

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What makes us human is the ability to recognize the good in other people and in turn recognize the good in ourselves. There is a saying that whatever you think about another person is just a reflection of what you think about yourself; it is like looking into a mirror. Paintings can act like mirrors as well; we can gaze into a painting and see the good of the subject being portrayed and in turn we can identify the same attributes within ourselves allowing us to relate to the subject matter. Both Rembrandt and Vermeer were able to capture intersubjectivity in their paintings. In The Return of the Prodigal Son (Fig. 1) and Aristotle (Fig. 2) by Rembrandt and The Milk Maid (Fig. 3) and Woman Weighing Pearls (Fig. 4) by Vermeer there is an autonomy that can be recognized in the painting as well as within us.
Rembrandt suffered many hardships throughout his life, the death of his children and wives, going bankrupt and having to sell his estate; all of these tribulations have had a personal significance for him and are apparent in subtle ways, in some of his paintings. One such painting that captures intersubjectivity is The Return of the Prodigal Son (Fig. 1); this painting portrays compassion and forgiveness. At some point in everyone’s lives there has been a time where we were asked to forgive or we had to ask for forgiveness, so this painting speaks to everyone. Rembrandt was able to capture the exact moment of forgiveness from the father and the penitence of the son. The father with his downcast eyes, solemn expression and gentle embrace indicate the father has truly forgiven his son and accepted him back into his house. In contrast the son on his knees, burying his head in his father’s chest shows us an appreciation and a sense ...

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...individual human being, worthy of our own unique individual response” (Weschler, p. 21). As we look at these paintings it is easy for us to connect to the subject matter, they all pertain to ethics. The contemplation of life and death, picking the right path for our highest and best good, forgiveness and taking pride in what you are doing. Each day we are faced with moral dilemmas and for the most part people choose to be good and do the best they can. These four paintings allow us to see the intersubjectivity in others as well as in ourselves.

Works Cited

Gowing, Lawrence. Vermeer. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1997.
Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt: life & work. Rev. ed. London: Phaidon Publishers, 1964.
Schneider, Norbert. Vermeer, 1632-1675: veiled emotions. Köln: Taschen, 2007.
Westermann, Mariët. Rembrandt. . Reprint, London: Phaidon, 2007.

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