Category Archives: April

The Red Leather Archive

This edition of the Red Leather Archive re-examines The Astronomer reviewed by Andrew Graham Dixon, Sunday Times, 2004.  Since that time Vermeer has been experiencing a renewed popularity, a fresh exhibition, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting, at The Louvre drawing record visitors.  Continuing the relevancy of technology and historical art, apps were launched for both Apple and Google, bringing Vermeer to the cutting edge of art appreciation, redefining the museum experience.

The Astronomer, Johannes Vermeer, 1668, The Lourvre, since 1983

The Astronomer, Johannes Vermeer, 1668, The Lourvre, since 1983.

The idealized image of The Astronomer by Johannes Vermeer, 1632-1675, depicts a 17th century scientist rapt in his study of the heavens.  Juxtaposed with its twin, The Geographer, the themes in the pictures run parallel courses towards the same moment.  Produced in the later period of the painter’s life, these are two of the only three paintings Vermeer signed, the other being the Procuress.

The Geographer, Johannes Vernmeer, Stadel Museum, 1668-1669.

The Geographer, Johannes Vernmeer, Stadel Museum, 1668-1669.

A 2017 study indicated that the canvas for the Geographer and Astronomer came from the same bolt of material, confirming their close relationship.  The paintings are unusual for Vermeer for having a male subject.  Styled correspondingly, the same man appears in both paintings, his identity unknown.  The historical record suggests the cloth merchant and amateur scientist, Antony Van Leeuwenhoek.  A contemporary of the artist, both born in the city of Delft, where van Leeuwenhoek assisted the family in sorting out Vermeer’s financial matters post mortem.


Faust depicted in an etching by Rembrandt (c. 1650). Faust, also a scholar, is depicted in the same pose as The Geographer, although facing in roughly the opposite direction.

The theme of the scholar in his study goes back to the Renaissance, where a number of artists including Jan van Eyck, Antonello da Messina and Albrecht Durer, depict St. Jerome in his study.  The celestial globe the model explores has been identified as one made in 1618 by the Amsterdam humanist Jodocus Hondius.  The book lying open on the table before him is a second edition of Adriaan Metius’ Institutiones Astronomicae et Is.  The painting scene appears mystical, and the oeuvre of Vermeer hints at mysterious beliefs, flooded by an otherworldly light suffusing the scene;  striking the celestial globe and the heavy ruck of carpet swag at the edge of the table; as intellect and knowledge fuse and combine, the artist capturing that moment, exquisitely.

St. Jerome in His Study

St. Jerome in his Study, Albrecht Durer

Vermeer and the Delft School

Vermeer and the Delft School

Thank you for joining me for this edition of the Red Leather Archive.  What art stories are you interested in hearing about?




Johnson, C. Richard, Jr, and Sethares, W.A. (2017). “Canvas Weave Match Supports Designation of Vermeer’s Geographer and Astronomer as a Pendant Pair”. Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art.

Bailey, Anthony (2001). Vermeer: A View of Delft. pp. 165–170. ISBN 0-8050-6930-5.

Vermeer and the Delft School, Metropolitan Museum of Art


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There Be Dragons in Gallery 203

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Saint George Killing the Dragon, Bernat Martorell, 1434

Saint George Killing the Dragon, Bernat Martorell, 1434

Directly off one of the main thoroughfares at the Art Institute of Chicago, Gallery 203, is the epic painting of Saint George Killing the Dragon (1434-35), by Bernat Martorell, 1400-1452.  The size of the painting equates to the amount of influence this story carries in many cultures; the popular myth of Saint George, the idealization of the knight who kills the dragon and saves the maiden;  a well-known saint in medieval Europe, where the knightly code of conduct emphasized heroism and courtly manners towards women.   He became the patron saint of Catalonia, Portugal, Russia and England.  April 23rd is still celebrated regionally as Saint George’s Day in some areas of Europe.

Martorell’s painting was the central panel of an altarpiece executed for a chapel dedicated to Saint George, patron Saint of Catalonia, located in northeastern Spain.  The image is filled with symbolism and detail bringing the story to life.  Bones litter the foreground, lizards crawl around the crevice where the dragon lives, and crowds line the castle’s battlements in the background.  The painting shows St. George at the climax of his most famous adventure, dressed in armor, mounted on a white horse, while the princess, dressed in a pink gown and fur trimmed cloak, stands witness to his defense.

And the crowd roared

The Princess is Saved

Dragon DetailSaint George in the Moment

The son of a butcher and a native of Sant Celoni, a small town in Catalonia, Martorell is one of the most significant artists of his generation.  In addition to paintings, his workshop produced manuscript illuminations, stained glass windows, flags, and coats of arms.  Certain features of Saint George Killing the Dragon, such as the style of architecture in the fortress, the enclosed gardens, the fruits and cypress trees, suggest a Catalan locale, even though the story was said to take place in the Middle East.

The painting itself is part of a retable, the side panels reside at the Louvre in Paris.  These additional parts complete the episode depicting the saint’s martyrdom, however they remain relatively unknown in the cultural domain.  The scenes consist of the Judgement, the Flagellation, Saint George dragged through the city, and the Beheading.

Saint George Retable Louvre

Saint George Retable, Louvre

The geographical scattering of the pieces of the retable led to different studies, nonetheless, the mystery of the painter was only recently solved with documented evidence to support the provenance.  The enigma was conclusively pinpointed during the Spanish Civil War, when the contract for the retable of Saint Pedre de Pubol, a work by Bernat Martorell, was found in the archives.  This work closely resembles the style of the Chicago Saint George.

Commissioned for the chapel of Saint George, Palau de la Generalitat, Barcelona, Saint George Killing the Dragon was placed on loan at the Art Institute in 1921, and given to the museum in 1933.

Enjoy a the viewing of this masterpiece at TripAdvisor’s Best Museum in the World, and to the left of this painting is a small room with medieval reliquaries; the tooth of Saint John, a carved ivory portable altar, and pieces from the Treasure of Gelph.  The Chicago Art Institute is an ever changing museum where each visit offers new and unique art for the viewer.

Looking forward to sharing my next post on the Augsberg Cabinet with a fantastic video, then Albrecht Durer!



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