The Baroque era through “The Astronomer”

Johannes Vermeer was one of the greatest of all Baroque painters.  His painting entitled “The Astronomer” is a true masterpiece that captures the mood of the Baroque era.Vermeer produced less than forty paintings in his lifetime, but their incredible detail and unique design made him famous.  One of his greatest works of art is “The Astronomer.”  This painting is a portrait of an astronomer in his office, examining a globe.  Like many paintings of this time period, the astronomer is seated by a glass window, the only source of light in an otherwise dark room.  While the wealth of the astronomer is not obvious, the fact that the astronomer can afford glass windows, a painting on his wall, and a shelf full of books shows that he is a rich man.  This portrayal of wealth is common in paintings of this time period.

The astronomer in this painting is a man of science.  He is not posing for his portrait, but rather he is shown performing his profession as an astronomer. This type of portrait was common in the Baroque era.  With a book open on his desk, he reaches for the globe, staring past it with a facial expression which reveals that he may have just made a great discovery.  According to some historians, the astronomer in this painting was inspired by Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who was born the same year as Johannes Vermeer.  Leeuwenhoek was the inventor of a microscope, and a master at astronomy and navigation.  Vermeer’s painting reflects Leeuwenhoek’s zeal for science.“The Astronomer” depicts not just a single man but the dawning of a new era of logical thought and scientific revolution.  In a balanced array of color and light, this painting captures the human fascination with the complexities of world around us.  This is a true masterpiece of the Baroque era.

By Matthew Elton

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