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.
The painting accurately renders the cartographic objects that express the theme: the sea chart, globe, dividers, square and a cross-staff that was used to measure the elevation angle of the sun and stars. It is probable that Vermeer's sophisticated presentation of these instruments was informed by his association with famed scientist Anthony Van Leeuwenhoek. Although no documents exist linking the two, they were both born in Delft in the same year. A contemporary portrait of Leeuwenhoek closely resembles the figure in Vermeer's geographer, and it is very possible that Leewenhoek served as the model.
Another Vermeer work, "The Astronomer", is commonly considered a pendant to "The Geographer". In it, the same model is depicted, this time among the instruments of astronomical study. Both paintings dramatically convey the excitement of scholarly inquiry and discovery. Considering these works as pendants offers an allegorical interpretation: the astronomer, student of the heavens, searches for spiritual guidance; the geographer, student of the earth, charts the proper course for temporal life.
Guido Reni repeated the theme of the apostles and evangelists several times. There are in existence two copies of the evangelist series in Rome and Naples. The St Matthew belonging to the Vatican Picture Gallery is very similar in typology to those of the two series, it could be part of yet another lost series.
Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 8 minutes):Johann Sebastian Bach: St. Matthew Passion BWV 244 (excerpts)
Catalogue numbers: F 36, JH 698.
Van Gogh showed, in several drawings and paintings, women absorbed in work in the solitude of their homes. Sewing, spooling thread, peeling potatoes, shelling beans and preparing food were among the most frequently depicted subjects. During the day, light shone into the dark rooms through the windows, whereas lamp- or firelight illuminated the models in the evening.
Van Gogh's Nuenen interiors of peasant women engaged in their work convey a certain timelessness and reflect the influence of 17th-century Dutch genre painting.
This painting, mentioned in Del Monte's inventory, shows a single lutanist singing a love song; and a related 'carafe with flowers' is also listed in the catalogue of the Del Monte sale. From the seventeenth century there have been uncertainties about the gender of the singer. Baglione and the Del Monte inventory call him a boy; Bellori, who knew only a copy, calls him a girl. There are reasons for this confusion. One is the Renaissance fascination with androgyny - the singer is not much older than Shakespeare's Rosalind, who renamed herself Ganymede, and Viola, who renamed herself Cesario - and another is the Italian fashion for castrati. The lutanist, with parted lips, sings of love from the madrigal Voi sapete ch ['io v'amo] (you know that [I love you]) by the Flemish composer Arcadelt. In front of him are a violin and bow which invite the spectator to take part in a duet with him; the fruit and the vegetables, and indeed the music itself, imply the harmony that should exist between lovers.
Among the early works this painting must count as a virtuoso performance. The glass carafe and its flowers are painted with assured mastery, and Caravaggio is also aware of the problems of perspective that lutes and violins could cause; and he spotlights the the solo player and his instruments so as to make them the main focus of attention, the carafe of flowers so that they are a secondary focus. One of his most talented followers, Orazio Gentileschi, was to paint a girl lutanist with a more beguiling sense of poetry, but without the sense of immediacy that was the hallmark of his master's craft.
Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 2 minutes):Francesco da Milano: Tre fantasie for lute