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 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.
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.
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.
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