Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632 – 1723)

. . . my work, which I’ve done for a long time, was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more than in most other men. And therewithal, whenever I found out anything remarkable, I have thought it my duty to put down my discovery on paper, so that all ingenious people might be informed thereof.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (Letter of June 12, 1716)


He was a friend of the painter Jan Vermeer (1632-1675), and the microscope may have inspired Dutch artists of the period in their endeavors to reproduce the surface textures of cloth, insects, fur, feathers, glass, and mirrors.

Did Antonie van Leeuwenhoek model for Vermeer’s paintings?


The Geographer (detail)


The Astronomer (detail) 

Portrait of Leeuwenhoek(detail) by J. Verkolje

Many critics have asked if the young men who appear in The Geographer and The  Astronomer (which seem to be the same man) represent Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. A detail of J. Verkolje’s portrait (above 3rd picture) of the scientist dates 1668 when he was  54 years of age. If  Van Leeuwenhoek did indeed pose in Vermeer’s paintings, he would have done so when he was approximately 32 seeing that the two paintings are generally dated near 1668.

Arthur Wheelock, curator of Northern Painting in the Washington National Gallery and noted Vermeer expert, believes that not only did Van Leeuwenhoek sit for Vermeer’s two paintings but that they may have even been commissioned by the scientist himself. On the other hand, John Michael Montias, noted Vermeer expert and author of Vermeer and his Milieu, sees no particular resemblance between “the elegant, distinguished-looking scholars portrayed in The Astronomer and The Geographer and the course- featured Van Leeuwenhoek.” In Verkolje’s portrait, Van Leeuwenhoek  has a nose similar to Vermeer’s man but his face seems broader although this discrepancy could be explained by the difference in age.


5 responses to “Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632 – 1723)

  1. Hello. The men are the same age. Both born in 1632 as we can surmise by the usual Christian practice of early Baptism after birth. I doubt that they were born “twins” of the same month, which would need to be the case, in regards to The Astronomer. I doubt that Mr. Wheelock, whose work is very much admired, would rest his laurels on his speculation regarding this identity.
    The Astronomer, himself, reveals his identity within the picture. He points to it with, not an index finger, but a THUMB. The thumb, in common usage, is a phallic symbol of the era, which Vermeer revealed in his picture “The Lady and Her Maid”. The thumb being larger by a knuckle than reality would have it. Her other hand had no such problem. But, I digress, to introduce the Astronomer’s thumb as symbol and its placement on the celestial globe as significant.
    The thumb rests on the Aquarian symbol of the water bearer. Thus, the approximation of January to February is clearly indicated. The painting-within-a-painting of Moses being taken from the water by the daughter of Pharoah, which, incidentally, is the meaning of the name, Moses -“taken from the water”, aligns perfectly with this astrological speculation as well as the Name of the Astronomer. Who is HE? One need only count the full gestation period of a human from “the conception” (THUMB)to “the delivery”, which is painted for us in the dead centre of the globe, albeit below centre, to ascertain the month of birth which is indicated by the Scales of LIBRA – the month of OCTOBER – the same Month that our hero was baptised. VERMEER, whose name means “OF THE SEA”!

  2. The Astronomer – Antonie van Leeuwenhoek??
    Another important discovery, which has just come to light, is in partial contradiction to my original assertions above. The THUMB, as indicated above and identified as a rather gross and bawdy symbol of the male phallus, is NOT, as I had indicated, on the Aquarian “waterbearer” exactly. Re-investigation has revealed that the thumb rests precisely on a close and adjacent constellation called “PHOENIX”. The dark shape, which Vermeer touches on the celestial globe, is the flying bird identified in many mythologies as the bird that dies in a self-made funerary fire from the ashes of which it’s off-spring – a new phoenix rises to new life.
    In 1667, only one year before Vermeer painted this Astonomer (self-portrait), he was honoured in the book “Beschryvinge der Stadt Delft” a history of Delft honouring her citizens achievements and published by an extraordinary seventeen-year-old – Dirck Evertszoon van Bleyswijck. The publisher of the book, Arnold Bon, composed a poem with a last stanza relating the rise of Vermeer as a Masterpainter in the wake of the untimely death of Carel Fabritius in the tragic explosion of a gunpowder munitions storage, as follows:
    “Thus did this PHOENIX, to our loss, expire,
    In the midstand at the height of his powers,
    But happily there AROSE OUT OF THE FIRE, Vermeer, who masterfully trod in his path.”
    The importance of the Astronomer’s thumb, in relation to his identity, is tied to the known history through this published poem. The discovery of his pointing to the Phoenix is a pictorial allusion that connects, in another fascinating way, the Astronomer to none other than Vermeer himself.
    It is known that Antony van Leeuenhoek was born on October 24th – on the cusp of Scorpio, but possibly in LIBRA, because dates did shift. But, why would Vermeer paint Leeuenhoek with his thumb precisely on the PHOENIX? No. All points to the artist as the model as well as the Master!

  3. My SINCERE APOLOGIES in reference to the Phoenix constellation in relation to Vermeer’s coception dating in the above writings. The constellation on which his thumb rests is AQUILA, the EAGLE, which does not have the significance that a PHOENIX would have had! The Phoenix ,as I now discover is a constellation in the southern hemisphere. Again my apologies for my error.
    The placement of the THUMB and the span of his fingers would be the earliest date of conception and a span of possible dates thereafter. The extent of the lack of knowledge which Vermeer and the world of van Leeuenhoek wrestled with (and the reason for the span of the Astronomer’s fingers) in relation to the actual means of conception, scientifically, is enlightening and will surprise many who read the following:
    The span of his fingers makes logical sense realizing the level of knowledge available to Vermeer. It may also explain the “pie” shape in the chart hanging on the closet behind him.

  4. Vermeer’s Orthogonals and Other Visual Aids
    Often, Vermeer used alignments of straight lines as tactical directionals to strengthen the composition and to use orthogonals as means for ends other than the perspective of rooms and objects. The converging orthogonal lines of The Milkmaid, for example, do not find a single point on a horizon line, but are scattered like buckshot behind her right arm. The Luteplayer has similar problems with the lines of the window glass frames. One of those lines is askew. As in The Glass of Wine, verticals and lines off the vertical are alternated: window to wall, to picture frame, to chair legs, in a tottering rhythm, I think, to suggest inebriation in the young woman being seduced. This back-handed disrespect of our seeing (conscious perceptions), as compared to an abiding respect for our brains capacity to SEE (unconsciously and subliminally, if I can use those terms in reference to a seventeenth century painter) is evident in the purposeful adjusting of these straight lines, and many other aspects of his painting. The Astronomer is a case in point.
    It is a simple procedure to use a PAINT program; to acquire a copy of the painting and, with as much accuracy as the eye and hand permit, to draw and extend straight lines of a visible colour along the lines Vermeer provides. In the Astronomer, some of the orthogonals will converge to a point on the sleeve of the extended right arm. Some will not. a number from the top of the window will, instead, go to a point in the centre of the “X” in the date painted on the door of his closet. The line extended from the carved capital shape, in front of the stained glass’s central circle, meet at the tip of the man’s middle finger. Whereas, the window pane dividers beside this capital extends two orthogonals to the, The window’s ledge, has a carved edge, three lines of which converge at the tip of the THUMB resting on the globe. The closet has a carved top on which books are stored. The orthogonal of this cornich angles down the side of the cupboard toward the vanishing point of the perspective, but misses

  5. SORRY – I submitted accidentally above…
    The lines above (six lines up) should read…

    Whereas, the window pane divider, beside this capital(two lines), extends to the tip of the upraised index finger. The window’s ledge…etc.

    The orthogonal of this cornich angles down the side of the cupboard toward the vanishing point of the perspective, but misses quite considerably to the left and touches the tip of the thumb of his left hand.
    The picture on the wall of Pharoah’s daughter holding Moses, aside from its symbolism is used by Vermeer as a directional device. The cross-corner angle line from top right to bottom left touches the head of the standing figure and the side of the maid seated by the water. extending the line, it is found to follow the direction of the left upper arm of the astronomer giving it visual strength. The astronomer’s chair orthogonals all meet at the vanishing point, except one. The top line of the back of the chair is significantly misaligned along the extended right arm to the globe and, NOT so significantly to the spot where the FOX constellation was later found.

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