Featured Artworks – The Geographer and The Astronomer – Johannes Vermeer

J._VERMEER_-_El_geógrafo  Johannes_Vermeer_-_The_Astronomer

The Geographer and The Astronomer are paintings finished about 1668 by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. They are both oil on canvas, 51 cm x 45 cm (20 x 18 in) The Geographer is in Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt and The Astronomer is on display at the Louvre, Paris.

Portrayals of scientists were a favourite topic in 17th century Dutch painting and Vermeer’s oeuvre includes both that of an astronomer and a geographer. Both are believed to portray the same man, possibly Antonie van Leeuwenhoek.

The geographer, dressed in a Japanese-style robe then popular among scholars, is shown to be “someone excited by intellectual inquiry”, with his active stance, the presence of maps, charts, a globe and books, as well as the dividers he holds in his right hand, according to Arthur Wheelock Jr. “The energy in this painting is conveyed most notably through the figure’s pose, the massing of objects on the left side of the composition, and the sequence of diagonal shadows on the wall to the right.”

The astronomer’s profession is shown by the celestial globe and the book on the table, Metius’s Institutiones Astronomicae Geographicae. Symbolically, the volume is open to Book III, a section advising the astronomer to seek “inspiration from God” and the painting on the wall shows the finding of Moses—Moses may represent knowledge and science (“learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians”)

It has been alleged by a few that Vermeer used optics to produce, what we would call today, photo realistic paintings. In 2006 David Hockney, one of Britain’s best known living artists, wrote a book called Secret Knowledge which turned the art world on its head, with new and exciting discoveries. Hockney demonstrates how Renaissance artists could have used mirrors and lenses to develop perspective, radically challenging our view of how the foundations of Western art were established. And in 2013, inventor Tim Jenison went to extreme ends to duplicate the painting techniques of Johannes Vermeer, in order to test the theory that Vermeer painted with the help of optical devices. He made a documentary called ‘Tim’s Vermeer’ which I whole heartedly recommend you seek out – Deskarati

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