Johannes Vermeer Paints The Geographer
In The Astronomer and The Geographer Vermeer dealt, according to his habit, with subjects which were the common property of his school.
In particular, he can hardly have been unaware of the numerous pictures of scholars in their studies by Rembrandt and his circle. Among these it is interesting to notice that the nearest precedent for the arrangement of Vermeer's versions is -- again to be found in drawings by Nicolaes Maes. It does not appear that even these figures can be credited to Vermeer's invention. The Geographer takes up precisely the position of Faust in Rembrandt's famous etching and in the resemblance we can for once trace Vermeer's radiant and contemplative moment to its source. Vermeer, whose cast of thought was as unlike Rembrandt's as that of any painter, yet must have owed some of the very foundation of it, some of the intensity with which the problems of figure painting presented themselves to rum, to the example with which the master confronted his generation. But it is perhaps significant that only here, as the tension of his own pressing problem and the limitations it imposed at last relax, do we discover a direct link to confirm the relationship which his whole development suggests.
In "The Geographer", Vermeer presents another individual in an interior. This male figure, though, is endowed with intense energy in comparison to the contemplative women of other compositions. The flow of light from left to right activates the canvas. The flow is accentuated compositionally by the massing of objects on the left. The light spills forcefully into the open area on the right, casting a powerful series of diagonal shadows. Vermeer adjusted his initial depiction of the figure to provide a more active stance. Detailed study of the canvas reveals that the geographer originally looked down at the table, with his dividers also pointed down. Adjusting the composition to align the man's face and the dividers with the flow of light gave further energy to the movement across the canvas. The folds of the robe also serve to activate the figure, with their dynamic, almost abstract depiction in their sunlit portion.