This article belongs to Shaila Olmos.
This painting has been choosen by Shaila Olmos for The English for specific purposes subject.
Very much like the geographer we find in this marvellous painting, it seems that Vermeer was a very patient and attentive painter and a rather contemplative observer. Many of his works show his mastery making especial a simple and silent moment, apart from revealing those deep qualities of such moments.
At first sight, it may seem that the geographer is just a man who studies the Earth but if we examine the canvas carefully, we will realize that he is an expert in navigation and topography, a man who is aware of vast distances, aware of the heights of mountains and the endless of oceans. He does not just deal with the territory but also with maps, carefully constructed images of the world.
We might think that he has been travelling around the world; therefore, he is a man of deep knowledge that after having experienced different situations and discovered new sides of the world, now, he knows every corner of the Earth without leaving his chamber. He is there, in his room deeply concentrated in his thoughts and problems, which are represented in his notebooks, at the same time he shows how skilful he is with his nautical charts and maps, with his dividers. It is not only an intellectual activity but also a manual one.
Behind this man of deep, deep knowledge, there is an orderly world of cartographic objects — rectangles, a globe, shadows projected by sturdy furniture — and before him, is a rumpled rug, curled maps, one of which has fallen to the floor. He is trying to create order from a kind of disorder. The globe, the books on top of the cupboard and the map on the wall and floor are part of other men’s knowledge, which our geographer uses in his own inquiries. He is up there in his studio, charting, measuring, counting, categorizing, naming, recording etc.
He is looking towards the window. However, he is not disturbed by something he sees outside. His facial expression and his posture indicate that he has just arrived at some important insight following a phase of concentrated contemplation.
The light comes in trough the window hitting different surfaces in the room. This flow coming from left to right brings alive the canvas. It is a place so full of rich textures and colours that it almost seems luxurious. It is his sacred place where he can work on his discoveries and be completely absorbed in his thoughts about the world. Look at the shine on the window and the globe. Look at the blue, yellow, and red pigments which despite of being many dark shadows, help creating a warm, bright atmosphere, help creating a prefect studio for our geographer. Therefore, The Geographer harmonizes space, colour, and light to convey a single human activity, a unified moment in time.
He is dressed comfortably and informally, with his long hair pulled behind one ear. His youth is the reflections of what is still for discover, it is the light of discovery, the light of knowledge.
Finally, we have to take into account that the seventeenth century was a time of discovery, when the charting of new and unexplored worlds was a dream realized not only by adventurers and traders but also by geographers and astronomers. So, may he be thinking about a discovery of utter importance? Is he maybe putting down his discovery on paper, so that other ingenious men might be informed?
Well, considering this, imagine that with his skill, endless curiosity and open mind this man succeeded in making some of the most important discoveries of the history of geography. Imagine that he left everything behind him: country, family, friends, life itself; to adventure into the unknown. May be after a long and zig-zag voyage, our man arrived to a land full of precious stones and all kinds of plants and fauna. Imagine that he could percieved the temperance and softness of the air, the clearness of the sky, and the fragrances sent forth from the unknown forests of that new land.
Our geographer was delighted with the purity and suavity of the atmosphere, the crystal transparency of the sea, and the extraordinary beauty of the vegetation. He also enjoyed the beauty of the unknown kinds of fruits upon the trees that overhung the shores. Suppose that it was like a lost paradise where he could look at animal and plant tissues, at mineral crystals and at fossils. Suppose that he had all the time in the world to enjoy all the precious things of that new landscape.
Finally, imagine that after months of deep research he came back. As we see in the canvas one day in his chamber while making a reflection of everything he had seen, he decided to share his researches, he wanted them to widely circulate all over the world.
These are just suppositions that have come out from our imagination. However, who knows if the model of this magnificent painting experienced an adventure similar to this?