The Geographer

Last updated
The Geographer
J. VERMEER - El geografo (Museo Stadel, Francfort del Meno, 1669).jpg
Artist Johannes Vermeer
Year c. 1668–1669
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 52 cm× 45.5 cm(20 in× 17.9 in)
Location Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt

The Geographer is a painting created by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer in 1668–1669, and is now in the collection of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut museum in Frankfurt, Germany. It is closely related to Vermeer's The Astronomer , for instance using the same model in the same dress, and has sometimes been considered a pendant painting to it. A 2017 study indicated that the canvas for the two works came from the same bolt of material. [1]

Johannes Vermeer 17th-century Dutch painter

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime but evidently was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.

Frankfurt Place in Hesse, Germany

Frankfurt is a metropolis and the largest city of the German federal state of Hesse, and its 746,878 (2017) inhabitants make it the fifth-largest city of Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Cologne. On the River Main, it forms a continuous conurbation with the neighbouring city of Offenbach am Main, and its urban area has a population of 2.3 million. The city is at the centre of the larger Rhine-Main Metropolitan Region, which has a population of 5.5 million and is Germany's second-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr Region. Since the enlargement of the European Union in 2013, the geographic centre of the EU is about 40 km (25 mi) to the east of Frankfurt's central business district. Like France and Franconia, the city is named after the Franks. Frankfurt is the largest city in the Rhine Franconian dialect area.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.



The Astronomer has been considered a pendant to The Geographer JohannesVermeer-TheAstronomer(1668).jpg
The Astronomer has been considered a pendant to The Geographer

This is one of only three paintings Vermeer signed and dated (the other two are The Astronomer and The Procuress ).

<i>The Astronomer</i> (Vermeer) painting by Johannes Vermeer

The Astronomer is a painting finished in about 1668 by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. It is oil on canvas, 51 cm × 45 cm, and is on display at the Louvre, in Paris, France.

<i>The Procuress</i> (Vermeer) painting by Johannes Vermeer

The Procuress is a 1656 oil-on-canvas painting by the 24-year-old Johannes Vermeer. It can be seen in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden. It is his first genre painting and shows a scene of contemporary life, an image of mercenary love perhaps in a brothel. It differs from his earlier biblical and mythological scenes. It is one of only three paintings Vermeer signed and dated.

The geographer, dressed in a Japanese-style robe then popular among scholars, [2] is shown to be "someone excited by intellectual inquiry", with his active stance, the presence of maps, charts, a globe and books, as well as the dividers he holds in his right hand, according to Arthur Wheelock Jr. "The energy in this painting [...] is conveyed most notably through the figure's pose, the massing of objects on the left side of the composition, and the sequence of diagonal shadows on the wall to the right." [3]

Vermeer made several changes in the painting that enhance the feeling of energy in the picture: the man's head was originally in a different position to the left of where the viewer now sees it, indicating the man perhaps was looking down, rather than peering out the window; the dividers he holds in his hand were originally vertical, not horizontal; a sheet of paper was originally on the small stool at the lower right, and removing it probably made that area darker. [3]

Details of the man's face are slightly blurred, suggesting movement (also a feature of Vermeer's Mistress and Maid ), according to Serena Carr. His eyes are narrowed, perhaps squinting in the sunlight or an indication of intense thinking. Carr asserts that the painting depicts a "flash of inspiration" or even "revelation". The drawn curtain on the left and the position of the oriental carpet on the tablepushed backare both symbols of revelation. "He grips a book as if he's about to snatch it up to corroborate his ideas." [4]

<i>Mistress and Maid</i> 1666 painting by Johannes Vermeer

Mistress and Maid (c.1667) is a painting produced by Johannes Vermeer, now in the Frick Collection in New York City. The work of Johannes Vermeer, also known as Jan, is well known for many characteristics that are present in this painting. The use of yellow and blue, female models, and domestic scenes are all signatures of Vermeer. This oil on canvas portrays two women, a Mistress and her Maid, as they look over the Mistress' love letter.

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. Rembrandt, Faust.jpg
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 globe was published in Amsterdam in 1618 by Jodocus Hondius. [3] Terrestrial and celestial globes were commonly sold together, and the celestial globe in The Astronomer "was also a Hondius (Hendrick rather than Judocus)", another indication that the two paintings were created as pendant pieces, according to Cant. The globe is turned toward the Indian Ocean, where the Dutch East India Company was then active. Vermeer used an impasto technique to apply pointillé dots, not to indicate light reflected more strongly on certain points but to emphasize the dull ochre cartouche "frame" printed on the globe. Since the globe can be identified, we know the decorative cartouche includes a plea for information for future editionsreflecting the theme of revelation in the painting. [4]

Jodocus Hondius Flemish/Dutch artist, cartographer, engraver

Jodocus Hondius was a Flemish engraver and cartographer. He is sometimes called Jodocus Hondius the Elder to distinguish him from his son Jodocus Hondius II. Hondius is best known for his early maps of the New World and Europe, for re-establishing the reputation of the work of Gerard Mercator, and for his portraits of Francis Drake. One of the notable figures in the Golden Age of Dutch/Netherlandish cartography, he helped establish Amsterdam as the center of cartography in Europe in the 17th century.

The Dutch East India Company was an early megacorporation founded by a government-directed amalgamation of several rival Dutch trading companies (voorcompagnieën) in the early-17th century. It was originally established on March 20 1602 as a chartered company to trade with India and Indianised Southeast Asian countries when the Dutch government granted it a 21-year monopoly on the Dutch spice trade. The Company has been often labelled a trading company or sometimes a shipping company. However, the VOC was in fact a proto-conglomerate company, diversifying into multiple commercial and industrial activities such as international trade, shipbuilding, both production and trade of East Indian spices, Formosan sugarcane, and South African wine. The Company was a transcontinental employer and an early pioneer of outward foreign direct investment. The Company's investment projects helped raise the commercial and industrial potential of many underdeveloped or undeveloped regions of the world in the early modern period. In the early 1600s, by widely issuing bonds and shares of stock to the general public, the VOC became the world's first formally-listed public company. In other words, it was the first corporation to be listed on an official stock exchange. The VOC was influential in the rise of corporate-led globalization in the early modern period.


Pointillé is a decorative technique in which patterns are formed on a surface by a means of punched dots. The technique is similar to embossing or engraving but is done manually and does not cut into the surface being decorated. Pointillé was commonly used to decorate arms and armor starting in the fifteenth century. The Holy Thorn Reliquary in the British Museum, made in France at the end of the 14th century, has very fine and delicate pointillé work in gold.

Vermeer's possible model, Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek, painted two decades later by Jan Verkolje Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723). Natuurkundige te Delft Rijksmuseum SK-A-957.jpeg
Vermeer's possible model, Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek, painted two decades later by Jan Verkolje

The cartographic objects surrounding the man are some of the actual items a geographer would have: the globe, the dividers the man holds, a cross-staff (hung on the center post of the window), used to measure the angle of celestial objects like the sun or stars, and the chart the man is using, which (according to one scholar, James A. Welu) appears to be a nautical chart on vellum. The sea chart on the wall of "all the Sea coasts of Europe" has been identified as one published by Willem Jansz Blaeu. This accuracy indicates Vermeer had a source familiar with the profession. The Astronomer, which seems to form a pendant with this painting, shows a similar, sophisticated knowledge of cartographic instruments and books, and the same young man modeled for both. That man himself may have been the source of Vermeer's correct display of surveying and geographical instruments, and possibly of his knowledge of perspective. [3]

Wheelock and others assert the model/source was probably Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), a contemporary of Vermeer who was also born in Delft. The families of both men were in the textile business, and both families had a strong interest in science and optics. A "microscopist", van Leeuwenhoek was described after his death as being so skilled in "navigation, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, and natural science ... that one can certainly place him with the most distinguished masteres of the art." Another image of van Leeuwenhoek (by the Delft artist Jan Verkolje) about 20 years later shows a broad face and straight nose, similar to Vermeer's model. At the time Vermeer painted the two works, the scientist would have been about 36 years old. He would have been actively studying for his examination for surveyor, which he passed on February 4, 1669. There is no documentary evidence for any kind of relationship between the two men during Vermeer's lifetime, although in 1676, van Leeuwenhoek was appointed a trustee for Vermeer's estate. [3]

The pose of the figure in Vermeer's painting "takes up precisely the position of Faust in Rembrandt's famous etching" (although facing the opposite direction), according to Lawrence Gowing. Similar arrangements can be found in drawings by Nicolaes Maes. [5]

Provenance and exhibitions

A less-detailed image of the painting, with more accurate coloring The Geographer.jpg
A less-detailed image of the painting, with more accurate coloring
1720 catalog listing the work. Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen, met derzelven pryzen p 242.jpg
1720 catalog listing the work.

For much of the painting's early history (until 1797), it was owned together with The Astronomer , which it strongly resembles, and the two have long been considered pendants, although their measurements are not identical. The paintings were not among the works in the Dissius sale of 1696, a collection apparently originally owned by the artist's supposed patron, Pieter van Ruijven, and the earliest record of the painting is from 1713. Up until the late 18th century, they were referred to as "Astrologers". The pair were sold by an anonymous owner together in Rotterdam on April 27, 1713 (No. 10 or 11), for 300 florins (a "considerable sum", according to Wheelock). Hendrik Sorgh, an art broker, may have bought the paintings at that point. They were among his effects when he died in 1720, and both were sold on March 28 of that year in Amsterdam (No. 3 or 4 in the sale; for 160 florins; described as "An Astrologer" and "a repeat"). Govert Looten, a neighbor of Sorgh at the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam bought the paintings, which were sold from his estate on March 31, 1729 (this painting was No. 6 and went for 104 florins, both were described in the catalog as "sublimely and artfully painted"). Jacob Crammer Simmonsz of Amsterdam (1725-1778) owned the pair before 1778, hanging them in his home on the Prinsengracht (Simonsz also owned The Lacemaker and another Vermeer, now unknown, depicting a lady pouring wine). He sold The Astronomer and The Geographer together on November 25 of that year to a Huguenot banker, Jean Etiènne Fizeaux of Amsterdam, who owned The Geographer until his death in 1780. His widow owned the work until perhaps 1785. As of 1794 it was owned by Jan Danser Nijman of Amsterdam, who sold it on August 16, 1797 to Christiaan Josi, a publisher of prints, for 133 guilders. It later was bought by Arnoud de Lange of Amsterdam. This transaction separated the two paintings. De Lange sold it on December 12, 1803 for 360 florins. [3]

Sometime before 1821, the painting was owned by Johann Goll van Franckenstein Jr. of Velzen and Amsterdam. Pieter Hendrick Goll van Franckenstein of Amsterdam owned it before 1832, and he sold it on July 1, 1833 for 195 florins to a Nieuwenhuys. It was owned by Alexandre Dumont of Cambrai before 1860, who sold it through Thoré-Bũrger to Isaac Pereire of Paris, who owned it by 1866. It was sold on March 6, 1872. Max Kann of Paris owned the painting, perhaps that year, and it passed into the hands of Prince Demidoff of San Donato, near Florence, sometime before 1877, and stayed in his hands until he sold it on March 15, 1880. A.J. Bosch sold the painting in Vienna on April 28, 1885 (for Õs 8,000) to a Kohlbacher, who sold it to the Stãdelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt. [3]

The work was exhibited in the Exposition rétrospective, Tableaux anciens empruntés aux galeries particulières held at the Palais des Champs-Elysées, Paris, 1866 ; at the exhibition of Ouvrages de peinture exposés au profit de la colonisation de l'Algérie par les Alsaciens-Lorrains, Palais de la Présidence du Corps législatif, Paris, 1874 ; and in the Vermeer, oorsprong en involved. Fabritius, de Hooch, de Witte exhibition at the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam, 1935. [3]

See also

Related Research Articles

Delft City and municipality in South Holland, Netherlands

Delft is a city and municipality in the province of South Holland, Netherlands. It is located between Rotterdam, to the southeast, and The Hague, to the northwest. Together with them, it is part of both Rotterdam–The Hague metropolitan area and the Randstad.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek Dutch tradesman and scientist

Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek FRS was a Dutch businessman and scientist in the Golden Age of Dutch science and technology. A largely self-taught man in science, he is commonly known as "the Father of Microbiology", and one of the first microscopists and microbiologists. Van Leeuwenhoek is best known for his pioneering work in microscopy and for his contributions toward the establishment of microbiology as a scientific discipline.

Pieter de Hooch Dutch Golden Age painter

Pieter de Hooch was a Dutch Golden Age painter famous for his genre works of quiet domestic scenes with an open doorway. He was a contemporary of Jan Vermeer in the Delft Guild of St. Luke, with whom his work shares themes and style.

<i>The Milkmaid</i> (Vermeer) 1658 painting by Johannes Vermeer

The Milkmaid, sometimes called The Kitchen Maid, is an oil-on-canvas painting of a "milkmaid", in fact, a domestic kitchen maid, by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. It is now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, which regards it as "unquestionably one of the museum's finest attractions".

Hendrik Martenszoon Sorgh Dutch painter

Hendrik Martenszoon Sorgh was a Dutch Golden Age painter of genre works.

<i>Saint Praxedis</i> (painting) painting attributed to Johannes Vermeer

Saint Praxedis is an oil painting attributed to Johannes Vermeer. This attribution has often been questioned. However, in 2014 the auction house Christie's announced the results of new investigations which in their opinion demonstrate conclusively that it is a Vermeer. The painting is a copy of a work by Felice Ficherelli, and depicts the early Roman martyr, Saint Praxedis or Praxedes. It may be Vermeer's earliest surviving work, dating from 1655.

<i>Girl with a Pearl Earring</i> (novel) Book by Tracy Chevalier

Girl with a Pearl Earring is a 1999 historical novel written by Tracy Chevalier. Set in 17th century Delft, Holland, the novel was inspired by local painter Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring. Chevalier presents a fictional account of Vermeer, the model and the painting. The novel was adapted into a 2003 film of the same name and a 2008 play.

<i>The Wine Glass</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer

The Wine Glass is a 1660 painting by Johannes Vermeer now in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. It portrays a seated woman and a standing man drinking in an interior setting. The work contains the conventions of genre painting of the Delft School developed by Pieter de Hooch in the late 1650s. It contains figures situated in a brightly lit and spacious interior, while its architectural space is highly defined. The figures are set in the middle ground, rather than positioned in the foreground.

<i>Study of a Young Woman</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer

Study of a Young Woman is a painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, completed between 1665 and 1667, and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

<i>The Lacemaker</i> (Vermeer) painting by Johannes Vermeer

The Lacemaker is a painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675), completed around 1669–1670 and held in the Louvre, Paris. The work shows a young woman dressed in a yellow shawl, holding up a pair of bobbins in her left hand as she carefully places a pin in the pillow on which she is making her bobbin lace. At 24.5 cm x 21 cm, the work is the smallest of Vermeer's paintings, but in many ways one of his most abstract and unusual. The canvas used was cut from the same bolt as that used for A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals, and both paintings seem to have had identical dimensions originally.

Jan Verkolje painter from the Northern Netherlands

Jan Verkolje or Johannes Verkolje was a Dutch painter, draughtsman and engraver. He is mainly known for his portraits and genre pieces of elegant couples in interiors and, to a lesser extent, for his religious and mythological compositions. He was a gifted mezzotint artist. Trained in Amsterdam Verkolje spent his active professional career in Delft where he had access to powerful patrons.

<i>The Allegory of Faith</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer

The Allegory of Faith, also known as Allegory of the Catholic Faith, is a painting created by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer in about 1670–72. The painting is currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and has been since 1931.

<i>Diana and Her Companions</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer

Diana and Her Companions is a painting by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer completed in the early to mid-1650s, now at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague. Although the exact year is unknown, the work may be the earliest painting of the artist still extant, with some art historians placing it before Christ in the House of Martha and Mary and some after.

<i>Girl with a Flute</i> painting attributed to Johannes Vermeer

Girl with a Flute is a small painting attributed to the Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer, executed 1665–1670. The work is in possession of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., just as Woman Holding a Balance, A Lady Writing a Letter and Girl with a Red Hat.

<i>Man Writing a Letter</i> painting by Gabriël Metsu

Man Writing a Letter is an oil painting on a wood panel by Gabriël Metsu made at the height of his career. It is assumed to be a pair with Woman Reading a Letter. The two genre paintings are regarded as Metsu's artistic climax. Since 1987 they can be seen in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.

Hendrick Sorgh Dutch Art Collector

Hendrick Sorgh was a broker and art collector in Amsterdam.


  1. 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. 9.
  2. Wheelock (2000)
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Wheelock (1995)
  4. 1 2 Cant (2009)
  5. Gowing (1970)


Further reading