Tag Archives: #art #history

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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Cabinet of Curiosities


David Roentgen (German, 1743–1807). Berlin Secretary Cabinet, ca. 1778–79. H. 11 ft. 9 3/8 in. (359 cm). Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Inv. nr. O-1962.24). Photograph: Stefan Klonk, Berlin

I am embarrassed to admit my last Cabinet appeared in 2015, however this particular series is dear to my heart and will continue again, with regular updates.

My cabinet is from SteamPunk Tendencies,  a wonderful video that will have you wondering where creativity in furniture production has gone.   Designed by Abraham (1711–1793) and David Roentgen’s (1743–1807) workshop, this masterpiece of craftsmanship located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the finest examples of European furniture making. A writing cabinet crowned with a chiming clock, it features finely designed marquetry panels and elaborate mechanisms that allow for doors and drawers to be opened automatically at the touch of a button. Owned by King Frederick William II, the Berlin cabinet is uniquely remarkable for its ornate decoration, mechanical complexity, and sheer size.cabinet-1

This cabinet, from Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, was featured in the exhibition Extravagant Inventions, on view during October 30, 2012–January 27, 2013, at The Met.


Every February LetterMo celebrates the handwritten letter.  The challenge is to send a hand written letter every postal day during the month.  Renew friendships, reach out to family, and meet new people through this unique challenge.


I miss the handwritten letters of my mother, and still have some squirreled away.  Receiving this type of correspondence transcends the instant gratification of email, giving the sender and recipient a tangible intimate connection.  These 23 little gifts (23 postal days in the month) return the nostalgia of expectation to the mail.  Who isn’t tired of only receiving bills in the mail?  I know I am, and would love more correspondence in the manner.   One of my most popular blog search terms is cursive writing. A fading art, beautiful cursive writing, that will one day be viewed as code to those not educated in this version of text.  Take up the challenge!

In the spirit of hand written text, I wish to share in this Cabinet, Sexy Codicology, and their blog post on Humanistic Script. I stumbled upon Poggio Bracciolini while reading The Swerve, a fantastic story that compels the reader to learn more, a passion of mine.  Credited with saving handwritten texts, painstakingly reproducing the words of many lost Roman humanists, among them the great poem, On The Nature of Things by Lucretius.


Returning this lost manuscript to circulation changed the world beginning in the Middle Ages, when the poem was plucked from a remote monastery in the winter of 1417. History reached across time and beckoned from the gardens of the ancient philosophers to the dark scriptoria of Rome; the vision in these pages shaped the thoughts of Galileo, Freud, Darwin and Einstein, even coming into the hands of Thomas Jefferson, thus leaving its traces on the Declaration of Independence; aside from these possible influences, any book that has a chapter entitled ‘A Pit to Catch Foxes’ is worth a look.



The recent technology activities of the Royal Archives not only brings online access to Queen Victoria’s diaries, ultimately, the veritable treasure trove of King George III will be digitized as well.   America’s “Last King”, suffered from the blood disorder porphyria, producing physical ailments such as insomnia, sensitivity to light and confusion, and leading him to gain the moniker, ‘Mad King George.’  However, there is so much more to this historically maligned monarch.  This BBC documentary gives a rare inside view of the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle.


The King was not only an incredible hoarder but a diligent clerk, squirreling away anything that caught his eye, from classified state documents, maps, theater tickets and scraps of sheet music.  The papers show the king’s devotion to his family and to the great scientists and artists who flourished under his patronage.  He met Mozart and revered Handel all his life.  The planet Uranus was originally named Georgium Sidus – George’s star – discovered by William Herschel in 1781.  The bill for Herschel’s telescope is amongst these archival treasures.


Lastly, for pure escapism, I’ve got the key to Versailles.  Let’s stroll the halls, private chambers, marvel at the Hall of Mirrors, the gardens, and wonder at the magnificence of this storied palace.

Thank you for your continued support of the Cabinet of Curiosities!



What I am watching –  TABOO,  Black Sails

Anticipating – House of Cards

What I am reading –  The Swerve, The Ugly Renaissance

Anticipating – City of Light, City of Poison, Holly Tucker

Anticipating – The Oscars, Tulip Fever

Trending on Twitter @JohnCleese

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