The Geographer


Oil on canvas
Inv. No. 1149

52 × 45 cm

zur  Biographie

A scholar in a housecoat, engrossed in his work: maps, the globe on the cupboard and the dividers in his hand identify him as a geographer. Specialized literature, distributed throughout the room, further emphasises the theoretical foundation of his work: he literally uses a book as a support. Yet he interrupts his rational quantifications and pauses for a moment to gaze at the real world outside his window. The scene thus ultimately serves as a symbol of Vermeer’s own work, which draws from both sources equally – perspectival construction as well as the vivid character of everyday objects as they appear in light and space. The former is based on a precise science, the latter remains the domain of art and is the true reason for the fame of Vermeer’s painting. This message is further enhanced by a companion piece (Paris, Louvre) depicting a scholar – perhaps the same one – as an astronomer. The latter is not concerned with the gaze out of the window but concentrates entirely on a celestial globe and the textbook in front of him. In keeping with this iconography, it is not a simple nautical chart but a painting of a momentous historical event that decorates the wall at the back.

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