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“The Geographer” by Johannes Vermeer

"The Geographer" by Johannes Vermeer

“The Geographer” by Johannes Vermeer

“The Geographer” by Johannes Vermeer is dressed in a Japanese-style robe which was popular at the time with scholars. He is depicted deep in thought with his active and engaging stance, surrounded by maps, charts, a globe and books and the dividers which he holds in his hand. The geographer has measured distances on a map, and now he has paused for thought.

Scientific analysis shows that Vermeer made several changes to this painting to enhance the feeling of energy in the picture. The geographer’s head was initially in a different position with the man looking down, rather than peering out the window. The dividers he holds in his hand were initially vertical, not horizontal. The man’s face is now slightly blurred, suggesting movement, his eyes are narrowed, to demonstrate deep thought. Vermeer has captured the moment in which the geographer is surveying the world in his imagination.

Vermeer has captured the perfect image of the Dutch Golden Age’s focus on global exploration and discovery. The globe and the map on the wall represent the state of the art in cartography and the Dutch leadership in the field. Europe’s coastlines and the Indian Ocean are essential territories for the country’s maritime-trade-based economy.

This painting is closely related to Vermeer’s “The Astronomer”; he used the same model in the same dress and the canvas for the two works came from the same bolt of material. This painting is one of only three paintings Vermeer signed and dated; the other two are The Astronomer and The Procuress.

Dutch Golden Age

The Dutch Golden Age spanned roughly the 17th century. The Dutch Republic was the most prosperous nation in Europe and led European trade, science, and art. The northern Netherlandish provinces that made up the new state had traditionally been less important artistic centres than cities in Flanders in the south. The upheavals and large-scale transfers of the population due to the Eighty Years’ War and the break with the old monarchist and Catholic cultural traditions, meant that Dutch art had to reinvent itself.

The painting of religious subjects declined sharply, but a significant new market for all kinds of secular subjects grew up. Vermeer’s subjects typify this exploration of new subject areas.

Johannes Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675) was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialised in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful painter in his lifetime. However, he was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death.

There are only thirty-four paintings by Vermeer, and they are challenging to date. Vermeer painted mostly domestic interior scenes, and most of his pictures are set in the rooms of his house in Delft. There are similar furniture and decorations in various arrangements in his domestic scenes and his art often portray the same people.  He was not wealthy, as he left his family in debt after his death. He produced relatively few paintings compared to his contemporaries. Art historians mainly overlooked Vermeer’s works for several centuries after his death. However, his reputation has skyrocketed in the last few hundred years, and he is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.

Reflections

  • Is Vermeer the master at capturing the moment?

The Geographer

  • Title:                  The Geographer
  • Dutch:               De Geograaf
  • Artist:                Johannes Vermeer
  • Year:                  1669
  • Material:            oil on panel
  • Dimensions:      Height: 53 cm (20.8 ″); Width: 46.6 cm (18.3 ″)
  • Museum:          Städel Museum

Johannes Vermeer

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German Proverbs and Quotes

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“A great poet is the most precious jewel of a nation.” 
– Ludwig van Beethoven

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Photo Credit: Johannes Vermeer [Public domain]

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