The Geographer, 1669
The significance of the sciences increased by leaps and bounds in the seventeenth century, particularly in Holland. This circumstance is reflected in the fact that scientists and scholars were now much in demand as pictorial motifs. Here is an example. Johannes Vermeer, the famous “fine painter” of Delft with the small œuvre, painted a geographer in his study, bent over his working table and surrounded by the utensils of his erudition. He is alone and does not appear to be expecting visitors – there are papers lying on the floor, and his housecoat is another sign of his withdrawal into the realm of his work. An all-pervasive quietude characterizes the scene; the subject’s right hand pauses in mid-air.
The only “action” takes place behind the geographer’s brow. He is literally bathed in the light of recognition; Vermeer has concentrated the entire atmosphere in this one spot. Still leaning over his papers, compass in hand, the geographer lifts his gaze towards the light flooding in through the window; it is as if the perfect solution to his problem has just dawned on him. At the same time, the painting keeps the content of the geographer’s thoughts to itself.