‘The Astronomer’

The Astronomer is a painting finished about 1668 by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. It is oil on canvas, 50 cm x 45 cm and it is on display at the Louvre, Paris. Portrayals of scientists were a favourite topic in 17th century Dutch painting and one of this type of painting that Vermeer includes in his galery is The Astronomer.


Making a brief analysis, in the following diagram we can see two different realities of the work which are brought into relation. The geometrical center of the painting (indicated by the point where the two yellow diagonals cross) and the vanishing point (indicated by the point where all the light gray perspective orthogonals meet), in fact,  fall precisely on the same point. This coincidence is fortuitous (statistically highly improbable). I think it is an extraordinary composition.

 There are some important elemntes in this painting:

  • The signature and date on the cupboard. The Astronomer is one of the very few canvases signed and dated by Vermeer.
  • The globe presents the complex forms of the constellations.
  • The open book was identified as the second edition of a work by Adriaan Metius, Institutiones Astronomicae et Geographicae. It is opened where ‘ inspiration from God ‘ is recommended for astronomical research along with knowledge of geometry and the aid of mechanical instruments.

Metius’ book was intended as a practical guide for studying astronomy and geography, which were more closely related in the    17th century than they are today. The book was recommended for ‘ shippers and pilots ‘ and included ‘ short and clear instructions for the art of navigation.’

  • The astrolabe is an historical astronomical instrument and analog computer used by classical astronomers and astrologers.In Vermeer’s Astronomer, the astrolabe may suggest man’s need to chart his course in life through careful and rational application of logic and measurement.
  • The curious technical chart. The three circular forms indicate some sort of stereoscopic projection.I have to mention that all these elements are in relation with astronomy figures like Sun, Moon, etc.
  • The books. We do not know the topics or titles of any of the twenty-five books ‘of all kinds’ cited in the inventory of movable goods of Vermeer’s estate. In any case, since books were still expensive, the number is considerable for a family of medium economic means.
  • The window construction presents part of a colored decorative stem. The incoming light is concentrated on the contemplative scholar and the celestial globe creating an air of mystery.
  • The particular painting about Moses. Vermeer’s Astronomerrepresents two different types of 17th-century science, the modern beside the ancient. 


Vermeer is popularly known as a painter of women. In that period, male figures usually played a supportive role such as a suitors, musicians or musical instructors. Nevertheless, Dutch paintings focus on a male figure usually exhibit them in their professional capacity such as doctors, scientists or painters. Only two paintings, the Astronomer and the Geographer show this idea.







 The Astronomer










 The Geographer


There are some differences between those two paintings but also some similar things.

According to the same things, we have

  • The signature and the date
  • The globe
  • The books
  • The window
  • A particular painting
  • The kimono (clothes)

However,some diferences too.

The Geografer

  • The compass
  • Maps

The Astronomer

  • The astrolabe
  • Technical chart
  • Open book

According to some studies. they said that the man who appears is the same person.

As you can see, it is a painting with a lot of important details. I have chose this painting because I think that it is a good one to make people to use their imagination and creation. When you are analysing the painting you are constantly making questions and you do not know the answer and this makes you use your imagination and make a personal story about that.

This is a video about a digital study of  the painting The Astronomer. Enjoy it!





2 responses to “‘The Astronomer’

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