The Geographer

(De geograaf)
c. 1668–1669
Oil on canvas
53 x 46.6 cm. (20 7/8 x 18 1/4 in.)
Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
inv. 1149

there are 13 hotspots in the image below

The Geographer, Johannes Vermeer

critical excerpt

Signature of Vermeer's Geographer

There are two signatures on The Geographer. Scholars once believed that this conspicuous signature on the background wall (with the date in Roman numerals) was not original even though the date, MDCLXVIIII (1669) was compatible with the date most Vermeer experts have ascribed to the painting. Recent restoration have demonstrated that both are original.

Signature of Vermeer's Geographer
This signature on the cupboard is now esteemed to be authentic as the one above.

Albert Blankert, Vermeer: 1632–1675, 1975

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Vermeer: The Complete Works, New York, 1997

Walter Liedtke, Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, New York, 2008

Wayne Franits, Vermeer, 2015

The support is a closed, plain-weave linen with a thread count of 14 x 11 per cm², the original tacking edges of which are still present. The canvas was lined, resulting in weave emphasis.

A gray ground containing chalk, umber, and lead white extends to the tacking edges. The paint was applied wet-in-wet in places. Many different textural effects have been created with the use of glazing, scumbling, impasto, and dry brushstrokes. The vanishing point of the composition is visible in the paint layer on the wall between the chair and the cupboard. Some abrasion, particularly in the shadows in the map, has resulted from past cleaning.

* Johannes Vermeer (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art and Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis - Washington and The Hague, 1995, edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.)


The Geographer in its frame, Johannes Vermeer

  • (?) Adriaen Paets I, Rotterdam (?1669-d.1686);
  • (?) his son, Adriaen Paets II, Rotterdam (1686-d.1712);
  • sale (Paets et al.?), Rotterdam, 27 April, 1713, no. 10 or 11, sold together with The Astronomer;
  • Hendrick Sorgh, Amsterdam (?1713-d.1720);
  • Sorgh sale, Amsterdam, 28 March, 1720, no. 3 or 4, sold together with The Astronomer;
  • Govert Looten, Amsterdam (before d.1727);
  • Looten sale, Amsterdam, 31 March, 1729, no. 6, sold together with pendant of the same no. Jacob Crammer Simonsz, Amsterdam (by d.1778);
  • Crammer Simonsz sale, Amsterdam, 25 November, 1778, no. 18, sold together with The Astronomer as pendant (to De Vries);
  • Jean Etienne Fizeaux, Amsterdam (1778-d.1780);
  • his widow, Amsterdam (1780-?1785);
  • [Pieter Fouquet, Amsterdam, and Alexandre Joseph Paillet, Paris, 1784–85];
  • Jan Danser Nijman, Amsterdam (?before 1794-d.1796);
  • Danser Nijman sale, Amsterdam, 16 August, 1797, no. 168, sold separately (to Josi);
  • [Christian Josi, Amsterdam and London];
  • Arnoud de Lange, Amsterdam (?1797-d.1803);
  • De Lange sale, Amsterdam, 12 December, 1803, no. 55 (to Coclers);
  • Johann Goll van Franckenstein, Jr., Velzen and Amsterdam (before 1821);
  • Pieter Hendrick Goll van Franckenstein, Amsterdam (before 1832);
  • Goll van Franckenstein sale, Amsterdam, 1 July, 1833, no. 47 (to Nieuwenhuys);
  • [Christian Johannes Nieuwenhuys, Brussels and London; sold to Dumont];
  • Alexandre Dumont, Cambrai (before 1860–1866);
  • Isaac Péreire, Paris, 1866 (sold via Thoré-Bürger from Dumont);
  • Péreire brothers sale, Paris, 6 March, 1872, no. 132;
  • (?) Max Kann, Paris (?1872);
  • [Sedelmeyer, Paris, c. 1875; sold to Demidoff];
  • Prince Demidoff di San Donato, near Florence (before 1877–1880);
  • Demidoff sale, San Donato, 15 March, 1880, no. 1124 (to Bösch?);
  • Adolf Josef Bösch, Döbling, Vienna (?1880-d.1884);
  • Bösch sale, Vienna, 28 April, 1885, no. 32 (to Ludwig Kohlbacher of the Frankfurter Kunstverein on behalf of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut);
  • 26 May, 1885 to the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main (inv. 1149).
  • Paris 1866
    Exposition rétrospective tableaux anciens empruntés aux galeries particulières
    Palais des Champs-Elysées
    35, no. 106
  • Paris 1874
    Exposés au profit de la colonisation de l'Algérie par les Alsaciens-Lorrains
    Palais de la Présidence du Corps léegislatif
    60, no. 332
  • Paris 1898
    Illustrated catalogue of 300 Paintings by Old Masters of Dutch, Flemish, French, and English School Being Some of the Principal Pictures Which Have at Various Times Formed Part of Sedelmeyer Gallery
    Sedelmeyer Gallery
    104, no. 87 and ill.
  • Paris 1914
    Hundred Masterpieces. A Selection from the Pictures by Old Master
    Sedelmeyer Gallery
    54, no. 25 and ill.
  • Rotterdam 1935
    Vermeer, oorsprong en invloed. Fabritius, de Hooch, de Witte
    Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
    38, no. 87 and ill. 68
  • Washington D.C November 12, 1995–February 11, 1996
    Johannes Vermeer
    National Gallery of Art
    170–175, no. 16 and ill.
  • The Hague March 1–June 2, 1996
    Johannes Vermeer
    Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis
    170–175, no. 16 and ill.
  • Frankfurt 1997
    Johannes Vermeer: der Geograph und der Astronom nach 200 Jahren wieder vereint
    Städelschen Kunstinstitut
  • Osaka 4 April–2 July, 2000
    The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer
    Osaka Municipal Museum of Art
    190–193, no. 35 and ill.
  • Kassel February 14–May 11, 2003
    Johannes Vermeer: Der Geograph. Die Wissenschaft der Malerei (The Geographer. The Science of Painting)
    Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Museumslandschaft Hessen
  • Rotterdam October 23, 2004–January 9, 2005
    Senses and Sins: Dutch Painters of Daily Life in the Seventeenth Century
    Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
  • Frankfurt February 10–May 1, 2005
    Senses and Sins: Dutch Painters of Daily Life in the Seventeenth Century
    Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie
  • Bilbao October 7, 2010–January 23, 2011
    The Golden Age of Dutch and Flemish Painting from the Städel Museum
  • Aichi (Japan) June 11–August 28, 2011
    The Golden Age of Dutch and Flemish Painting from the Städel Museum
    Toyota Municipal Museum of Aichi
  • Budapest October 31, 2014–February 15, 2015
    Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age
    Szépművészeti Múzeum
  • Frankfurt October 7, 2015–January 24, 2016
    Masterworks in Dialogue: Eminent Guests for the Anniversary
    Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
  • St. Petersburg August 27–November 20, 2016
    Johannes Vermeer: "The Geographer" fom the Städelsches Kunstinstitut (Masterpieces from the World's Museums in the Hermitage)
  • Paris February 20–May 22, 2017
    Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry
    Musée du Louvre
  • Dublin June 17–September 17, 2017
    Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry
    National Gallery of Ireland
  • Washington D.C. October 22, 2017–January 21, 2018
    Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry
    National Gallery of Art
Johannes Vermeer's Geographer in scale
vermeer's life Vermeer signs and dates The Astronomer 1668. Some scholars believe that Delft citizen Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who was by then internationally recognized for his studies in optics and scientific observations, posed for The Astronomer, although portraits of Leeuwenhoek bears little resemblance to the seated man in Vermeer's picture.
dutch painting

Rembrandt paints Return of the Prodigal Son.

Gabriel van de Velde paints Golfers on the Ice.

Philips Wouwerman, Dutch painter, dies. He was the most celebrated member of a family of Dutch painters from Haarlem, where he worked virtually all his life. He became a member of the painters' guild in 1640 and is said by a contemporary source to have been a pupil of Frans Hals. The only thing he has in common with Hals, however, is his nimble brushwork, for he specialized in landscapes of hilly country with horses—cavalry skirmishes, camps, hunts, travelers halting outside an inn, and so on. In this genre he was immensely prolific and also immensely successful.

european painting & architecture

Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, Austian architect, is born.

Bernini sculpts a terra cotta study for one of the angels of Rome's Port Santa Angelo.


Nov 10, Francois Couperin, composer and organist (Concerts Royaux), is born in Paris, France.

Danish organist-composer Diderik Buxtehude, 31, is named organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, succeeding Franz Tunder (whose daughter, Anna, he marries). His sacred Abendmusiken concerts will be presented each year during Advent on the five Sundays before Christmas. Buxtehude's cantatas and instrumental organ work will have a strong influence on other composers.

Mar 5, Francesco Gasparini, composer, is born.


Apr 13, John Dryden (36) became 1st English poet laureate.

science & philosophy

Robert Hooke: Discourse on Earthquakes.

Newton invents the reflecting telescope, building the first telescope based on a mirror (reflector) instead of a lens (refractor).

First accurate description of red corpuscles by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Leeuwenhoek was born in the same year as Vermeer and is often associated to the artist for their interest in optics.

Chemist Johann R. Glauber dies at Amsterdam March 10 at age 63.


Mar 26, England takes control of Bombay, India.

Mar 27, English king Charles II gives Bombay to the East India Company.

Sep 16, King John Casimer II of Poland abdicates his throne.

Louis XIV of France purchased the 112 carat blue diamond from John Baptiste Tavernier for 220,000 livre. Tavernier is also given a title of nobility.

Feb 7, The Netherlands, England and Sweden conclude an alliance directed against Louis XIV of France.

vermeer's life

Vermeer's mother, Digna Baltens, leases the inn Mechelen to a shoemaker for three years. She and her husband had worked in the place for 28 years. Afterwards she goes to live with her daughter Gertruy on the Vlamingstraat, in Delft.

Vermeer and his wife bury another child in the Oude Kerk.

Pieter Teding van Berckhout, from an important family in The Hague, visits Vermeer twice and enters in his diaries his impressions. In May 14, 1669, Van Berckhout writes: "Having arrived in Delft, I saw an excellent painter named Vermeer," stating also that he had seen several "curiosities" of the artist. He had arrived in Delft accompanied by Constantijn Huygens and his friends—member of parliament Ewout van der Horst and ambassador Willem Nieupoort. Huygens was an artistic authority in his own day, maintaining contacts with the famous Flemish painters Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck and recording in his own diary some remarkably insightful comments about the art of, among others, Rembrandt van Rijn.

Van Berckhout must have been deeply impressed by the work he saw in Vermeer 's studio, since he returned for another visit less than a month later. On June 11, Van Berckhout notes: "I went to see a celebrated painter named Vermeer" who "showed me some examples of his art, the most extraordinary and most curious aspect of which consists in the perspective." This time Van Berckhout used the term "celebrated" rather than "excellent" in describing Vermeer. This testifies Vermeer had achieved a rather considerable reputation. What is most interesting about this visit is that Vermeer's studio (like Dou and van Mieris) had evidently evidentbecome a major cultural destination.

dutch painting Oct. 4, Rembrandt dies, eleven months later after his son, Titus, in 1668—only 27 years of age. His beloved Hendrickje had died in 1663.
european painting & architecture

Le Vau begins remodeling Versailles.

The semicircular Sheldonian Theater at Oxford, England, designed by Christopher Wren, is completed.


Royal patent for founding Academie Royale des Operas granted to Pierre Perrin.

Marc' Antonio Cesti, Italian composer, dies.

The first Stradivarius violin is created by Italian violinmaker Antonio Stradivari, 25, who has served an apprenticeship in his home town of Cremona in Lombardy to Nicola Amati, now 73, whose grandfather Andrea Amati designed the modern violin. The younger Amati has improved on his grandfather's design and taught not only Stradivari but also Andrea Guarnieri, 43, who also makes violins at Cremona.

science & philosophy

Arnold Geulincx (b. 1624), Dutch philosopher, dies.

Nicolaus Steno (1638–1687) begins the modern study of geology.

Nils Steensen's Prodromus is first published in Italy and translated to English two years later. It explains the author's determination of the successive order of the earth strata.

Emperor Leopold I sanctions the foundation of a higher school in Innsbruck, Austria. This is considered to mark the founding of the University of Innsbruck.

A General History of the Insects by Jan Swammerdam presents a preexistence theory of genetics that the seed of every living creature was formed at the creation of the world and that each generation is contained in the generation that preceded it.


Pope Clement IX dies at Rome December 9 at age 69 after a 2½-year reign in which he has encouraged missionary work, reduced taxes, and extended hospitality to Sweden's former queen Kristina. He will not be replaced until next year.

Feb 1, French King Louis XIV limits the freedom of religion.

Mar 11, Mount Etna in Sicily erupts killing 15,000.

Sep 27, The island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea falls to the Ottoman Turks after a 21-year siege.

Ethica, Baruch Spinoza

The opening page of
Baruch Spinoza

It is generally accepted that upon Vermeer's wedding to Catharina Bolnes, the artist converted to Catholicism. We have no objective evidence that his conversion—in any case an extremely rare event in the Netherlands—caused him any undue difficulties during his career. He lived with his Catholic mothered-in-law, Maria Thins, in the Catholic "Papist's Corner" in Delft and brought up his children according to the Catholic faith. While religious conversion in the Netherlands was frowned upon, it was nonetheless tolerated.

While not free from religious conflict, the Netherlands had a long tradition of religious tolerance. The Union of Utrecht, signed on 23 January, 1579, declared individuals free to choose their own religion. For centuries the Dutch Reformed Church was the privileged church, but other denominations were allowed to perform their worship services. The Dutch Republic became a refuge for religious and political dissidents from abroad, including such groups as Jews and Huguenots, as well as such noted individuals as Baruch de Spinoza and René Descartes. In combination with a vibrant commercial culture and schools that were developing excellent reputations, this tolerant society provided fertile soil for cultivating a scientific way of looking at the world.

However, tolerance did not reside in a coherent body of law although Dutch intellectuals vigorously discussed the foundations of their new republic. More generally, the climate of lenience and a free press allowed thinkers like Coornhert, Grotius, and Gerard Noodt, as well as foreign residents or visitors like Bayle and Locke, to explore the philosophical properties of tolerance. However, there were clear boundaries beyond which they could not venture.

Spinoza and his followers discovered that freedom of conscience did not mean freedom of thought. They risked censure and punishment especially when their works were seen as undermining the Christian foundations of the Republic. Despite such limitations, it was precisely this philosophical speculation that over time helped the Netherlands to serve as a model elsewhere.

Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek, Jan Verkolje

Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek (detail)
Jan Verkolje
c. 1680–1686
Oil on canvas, 56 x 47.5 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

In the construction of The Geographer, Vermeer was most likely guided by someone familiar with geography and navigation as demonstrated by the artist's sophisticated description of the scientific instruments. Moreover, none of these expensive instruments are mentioned in the artist's death inventory of movable goods. In Delft, Anthoni van Leeuwenhoek was well known for his discoveries with the microscope but was also described as being skilled in "navigation, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy and natural sciences." He was born in Delft on 1632 the same year as Vermeer. Some experts believe it was Van Leeuwenhoek who posed for both The Geographer and The Astronomer and perhaps commissioned them too. A portrait (see detail left) by Delft painter Jan Verkolje shows the scientist when he was fifty-four years old, some eighteen years after Vermeer's painting. Whether or not the features are similar to the long-haired scholar in Vermeer's painting is debatable.

Cartography is one of the oldest human occupations. It evolved to a high standard of a science, a technology and an art, especially from the Renaissance and onwards; its peak was reached in the 17th and 18th centuries. The historian R.S. Westfall has demonstrated that almost "two out of five" scientists were then dealing with cartography.

The Dutch were then world leaders in the field of cartographic production: globes, maps, charts and atlases were issued in unprecedented quantities during the 17th century in the Netherlands, with its main production center in Amsterdam. In Vermeer's time, mapmaking and painting were not clearly distinct disciplines as they are today. 17th-century mapmakers required a combination of skills. Other than a thorough knowledge of surveying, the mapmaker had to know how to draw, watercolor and create decorative motifs. If the maps were to be reproduced, he had to be thoroughly versed in engraving, printing, calligraphy and marketing techniques as well.

Such sophisticated products remained expensive so the number of specialists remained small. Elaborate, decorative maps, like those in Vermeer's paintings, were sold alongside books in specialty shops on Binnenhof in The Hague and around Dam Square in Amsterdam. But there are numerous testimonies that simple citizens were inclined to make maps of their own.

Floris Balthasar, a mapmaker, citizen of Delft and member of the Guild of Saint Luke of Delft, would have regarded himself as a cunstwerker in caerten, an artist in mapmaking.

Balthasar pointed out the dual functions of the map. On one hand they could be used for military operations, for architecture, for hydraulic works, for sea trade and for questions of land ownership. On the other hand, maps could be collected to increase knowledge of the world, insight into history and the joy of learning of God's creation of the world.

Terrestrial Globe, Jacobus Hondius

Terrestrial Globe
Jacobus Hondius 1618

The initial impetus for developing and manufacturing globes as a commercial enterprise was provided by a desire for geographical information in the period of the great discoveries. Although their decorative function must have been an important concern, in general, globes were constructed with the stated aim of promoting geographical and astronomical studies recording the latest geographical and astronomical information. Once a globe was made it was complicated and expensive to correct the engraved copper plates in order to print new versions. Thus, while most globes exhibit an up-to-date geographical picture when the plates were first engraved, for years to come they were rarely altered so that the majority of existing globes was out-of-date.

In order to commercialize their globes, manufacturers advertised them as scientific aids for navigation, especially in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Jacob Hondius, the producer of the globes in Vermeer's paintings, gave this as a reason for making globes although seamen rejected them due to the difficulties involved in making accurate measurements around a curved surface.

Nonetheless, the globe became a symbol more than a tool of navigation, and therefore an object desired by Dutch merchants. This side-effect not only stimulated an expansion in globe production, it also made it possible to sell out-of-date globes. Those who purchased globes for their symbolic value were far less concerned about their scientific accuracy than its decorative aspect. At times, globes were sold that were constructed more than a century ago.

Portrait of Baruch Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza

Owing to its relatively tolerant political and religious attitude, the United Provinces had become a magnet for some of the great thinkers of the century, such as John Locke and Baruch Spinoza. Theirs was an age of observation and scientific discovery in which religious faith was no longer sufficient guidance for all men. Optical instruments, such as the telescope, microscope and camera obscura (Vermeer certainly knew the latter) had become means to scrutinize the "anatomy of the universe" and sight itself had become an issue of intense philosophical speculation.

In recent years, various writers have endeavored to link Vermeer's measured art and his concerns with optics with these revolutionary intellectual currents. Accordingly, the artist would have employed the camera obscura not merely as a mechanical means for studying and transcribing outward appearances but for its philosophical implications. The historian Robert Huerta promoted the Delft artist to the role of the natural philosopher.

Vermeer and Spinoza had some things in common. Spinoza was born in the same year as the artist, 1632, and died in 1677, two years after Vermeer. Spinoza's Tydeman home, just an hour twenty-minute walk to Vermeer's house in Delft, was seven miles away. There is no proof that Vermeer knew Spinoza or even if Spinoza's ideas were discussed in Delft but in the age when books were still expensive commodities, five folios and twenty-five assorted books reported in the inventory of the artist's estate testify that he was not unlearned. Whether or not Vermeer occupied himself with the scientific and philosophical debates of the time remains uncertain but he left two powerful images which al least show his admiration for the scientists of his time, The Astronomer and The Geographer painted between 1668 and 1669.

Spinoza had a solid grasp of optical theory and of the then-current physics of light, and was competent enough to engage in sophisticated discussion with correspondents over fine points in the mathematics of refraction. We know that Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, the distinguished scientist and lens-grinder, almost certainly knew Vermeer since both lived in Delft. We would expect Van Leeuwenhoek was aware of Spinoza's reputation for either for his work with lenses or for and free-thinking heresies which came under fire in the late 1660s.

Some writers have associated Spinoza's praise of the contemplative and intellectual life as the highest of man's achievements with the people that appear in Vermeer's paintings, many of whom are pictures absorbed in rapt contemplation or engaged in intellectual pursuits. From a formal point of view Vermeer compositions have an uncommon air of equilibrium as if every element had been examined and exactly ordered within the perimeters of his composition according to some unknown plan. As one author wrote, Vermeer's thoughtful compositions stand for the independent mental activity of his figures. His penchant for geometrical forms have been indirectly linked to the subtitle of Spinoza's Ethics, ordine geometrico demonstrate (arrange according to geometric principles).