Tag Archives: the Louvre

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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The Queen has requested your services…

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640

In 1621, Peter Paul Rubens received the commission of a lifetime, creating 24 tableaux for the decoration of two galleries in the Luxembourg Palace for Marie de Medici; a series of 21 paintings reflecting a visual biography of the Queen, including three portraits of Marie, her mother and father.  With three years to complete the contract, Rubens was faced with subject matter full of overly dramatic, but unremarkable events, set against a tense political climate.  “realism… would have been most dangerous.” 1

Detail of signatures from contract, Morgan Library and Museum

A short history lesson to illustrate the tenuous relationship of Marie de Medici and her son Louis XIII appears to be in order.  Marie became the second wife to King Henry IV of France in 1600.  When Henry was assassinated in 1610, Louis was only 10 years old and his mother acted as regent as commanded by law in case of an infant ruler.  However, even after Louis came of age at thirteen, the queen continued to rule in his name.  At age fifteen, Louis gained control of his throne and exiled his mother to Blois.  The family was not reconciled for six years, in 1621, and Marie was permitted to return to Paris.  She focused on building and decorating the Luxembourg Palace, where Rubens played a key role.  An additional cycle of paintings dedicated to the life of Henry IV was never completed, but some preliminary sketches survive.2  The fact this series was not realized can be attributed in part to Marie being permanently banned from France by her son in 1631.  She escaped to Brussels and died in exile in 1642, while living at the same house that Peter Paul Rubens’ family had occupied more than fifty years prior.

Mixing his knowledge of classical literature and artistic tradition with allegorical representations, Rubens was able to produce the cycle of paintings. The contract for this assignment, written in French and signed February 26, 1622, by Marie de Medici, her secretary Claude Bouthillier, Rubens and two additional unidentified persons, is a primary piece of the small collection at the Morgan Library and Museum relating to Rubens and Marie de Medici. The contract is housed with another in the same format that involves several other artists, as well as two letters written by Rubens. Details in the images show Rubens’ signature next to a few marginal addendum, and Marie de Medici’s simplistic signature, simply ‘Marie.’ The cycle of paintings now hang in the Louvre.

Addendum to Rubens Contract, Morgan Library and Museum

Rubens was an adept employee of numerous royal courts throughout Europe and Britain, traversing many political climates. The bombastic grandiosity of his paintings were demanded by those who claimed their authority was a divine right.  But his negotiating skills, particularly the peace agreement between England and Spain in 1630, have been shrouded in secrecy over time.  My summer reading list includes “Master of the Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens”, with more blog articles exploring this historic individual.  Any suggestions on Rubens and his career would be most welcome.

1.  Bertam, Anthony, The Life of Sir Peter-Paul Rubens (London: Peter Davies, 1928), 110.

2.   Belkin, Kristin Lohse, Rubens, Phaidon Press, 1998, 175-6.


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