Eeckhout

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Eeckhout was a Dutch painter of portraits, religious subjects and genre, active in Amsterdam. He was a friend and favourite pupil of Rembrandt and a close imitator of his style. In about 1655 he painted a number of scenes in the totally different manner of Ter Borch.

Eeckhout's Scholar with his Books gives us no impression of the wisdom evoked in Rembrandt's portrait of the Old Rabbi. Here we see an industrious pedant whose learning is indicated only by external objects-the books and the globe. The learned men portrayed by Vermeer and Rembrandt are men of exceptional qualities but their portraits cannot be called genre paintings. This picture by Eeckhout is certainly a genre painting, the sitter, however, is not shown to be a sage but a burgher. The warm brownish-red and yellowish colours and the manner of painting are reminiscent of Rembrandt's later style.

The seated figure of a wise old man is outlined against an obscure background, his face and hands brightly illuminated by the light from a candle. It is a pose frequently seen in seventeenth-century portraits and one frequently used by Rembrandt himself. Although this is a portrait from life, the treatment of the subject evokes a biblical atmosphere. The picture is almost allegorical: the old man's attitude of meditation symbolizes the ephemeral nature of man's intellect. The light shining on his face is echoed in the glow from the back and the copper candlestick, familiar objects that give a feeling of warm intimacy. The picture was painted in the same year as the famous Night Watch.

Signature: Signed and dated 668 on the cupboard (spurious, later additions).

Provenance: This painting and the Geographer (Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt) are probably companion pieces, in spite of the fact that the sitter is looking to the left in both of them. They share the same provenance until 1778. Thus: sale Rotterdam, 1713; sale Amsterdam, 1720; sale Amsterdam, 1729; sale Amsterdam, 1778. Collection Jean-Etienne Fiseau; art dealer Lebrun, Paris; brought to Paris in 1785; sale Amsterdam, 1797; sale Amsterdam, 1800; sale Paris, 1881; collection Alphonse de Rothschild, Paris, 1888; collection Edouard de Rothschild. Abducted by Hitler during World War II. Restored to owner in 1945. Acquired by Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1983.

In view of the fact that the Astronomer and the Geographer are probably pendants, and are the only works in Vermeer's oeuvre that represent male figures involved in scholarly pursuits, we are treating them conjointly.

Until 1778, they remained together. The signatures and dates on both paintings are questionable, but they must have been executed toward the end of the 1660s.

None of these paintings appears in the sale of 1696, and were therefore commissioned by a patron who was especially interested in astronomy or the celestial sciences. In both paintings, the references to books, scientific instruments, and, in the portrait of the Astronomer, the celestial globe by Jodocus Hondius, are accurately depicted.

The latter painting features on the rear wall a picture representing the scene of the finding of Moses, which has been interpreted as being associated with the advice of divine providence in reaching, in the case of the astronomer, for spiritual guidance.

Although farfetched, it is likely that the content of the painting is associated in some way with the meaning of the work. The sea chart on the wall of the Geographer does not have any religious association. It must be remembered that the rise of interest in scientific research at the time, fostered by the newly established University of Leyden, and philosophers like Descartes, did not have any specific religious associations. Quite to the contrary, the aim was to explore the universe, and simultaneously to further Dutch navigation in its conquest of faraway lands.

Both paintings, with their interiors of scholarly studios and scientific paraphernalia, award Vermeer the opportunity for lightening effects that envelop the scientists in the mystery of an atmosphere that lifts their occupations into the realm of spirituality

It has proved possible to identify the book that lies open in front of this mystically-clad astronomer. It is by Adriaen Metius and is called The Exploration and Observation of the Stars. The globe was made by Jodocus Hondius.

Signature: Signed twice: on the cupboard; and signed and dated 1669 top right. All these inscriptions are dubious.

Provenance: This painting and the Astronomer (Louvre, Paris) are probably companion pieces, in spite of the fact that the sitter is looking to the left in both of them. They share the same provenance until 1778. Thus: sale Rotterdam, 1713; sale Amsterdam, 1720; sale Amsterdam, 1729; sale Amsterdam, 1778. After 1778: in 1785, both paintings were brought to Paris by the art dealer Alexandre Joseph Paillet. He intended to sell them to the French king, but was unsuccessful. Sale Amsterdam, 1797; sale Amsterdam, 1803; collection Alexandre Dumont, Cambrai; collection Isaac Pereire, 1866; sale Pereire, Paris, 1872; collection Max Kann, Paris; sale Demidoff, Palais de San Donato, Florence, 1880; sale Ad. Jos. Bösch, Vienna, 1885. There acquired by the museum.

In view of the fact that the Astronomer and the Geographer are probably pendants, and are the only works in Vermeer's oeuvre that represent male figures involved in scholarly pursuits, we are treating them conjointly.

Until 1778, they remained together. The signatures and dates on both paintings are questionable, but they must have been executed toward the end of the 1660s.

None of these paintings appears in the sale of 1696, and were therefore commissioned by a patron who was especially interested in astronomy or the celestial sciences. In both paintings, the references to books, scientific instruments, and, in the portrait of the Astronomer, the celestial globe by Jodocus Hondius, are accurately depicted.

The latter painting features on the rear wall a picture representing the scene of the finding of Moses, which has been interpreted as being associated with the advice of divine providence in reaching, in the case of the astronomer, for spiritual guidance.

Although farfetched, it is likely that the content of the painting is associated in some way with the meaning of the work. The sea chart on the wall of the Geographer does not have any religious association. It must be remembered that the rise of interest in scientific research at the time, fostered by the newly established University of Leyden, and philosophers like Descartes, did not have any specific religious associations. Quite to the contrary, the aim was to explore the universe, and simultaneously to further Dutch navigation in its conquest of faraway lands.

Both paintings, with their interiors of scholarly studios and scientific paraphernalia, award Vermeer the opportunity for lightening effects that envelop the scientists in the mystery of an atmosphere that lifts their occupations into the realm of spirituality.

In "The Geographer", Vermeer presents another individual in an interior. This male figure, though, is endowed with intense energy in comparison to the contemplative women of other compositions. The flow of light from left to right activates the canvas. The flow is accentuated compositionally by the massing of objects on the left. The light spills forcefully into the open area on the right, casting a powerful series of diagonal shadows. Vermeer adjusted his initial depiction of the figure to provide a more active stance. Detailed study of the canvas reveals that the geographer originally looked down at the table, with his dividers also pointed down. Adjusting the composition to align the man's face and the dividers with the flow of light gave further energy to the movement across the canvas. The folds of the robe also serve to activate the figure, with their dynamic, almost abstract depiction in their sunlit portion.

The painting accurately renders the cartographic objects that express the theme: the sea chart, globe, dividers, square and a cross-staff that was used to measure the elevation angle of the sun and stars. It is probable that Vermeer's sophisticated presentation of these instruments was informed by his association with famed scientist Anthony Van Leeuwenhoek. Although no documents exist linking the two, they were both born in Delft in the same year. A contemporary portrait of Leeuwenhoek closely resembles the figure in Vermeer's geographer, and it is very possible that Leewenhoek served as the model.

Another Vermeer work, "The Astronomer", is commonly considered a pendant to "The Geographer". In it, the same model is depicted, this time among the instruments of astronomical study. Both paintings dramatically convey the excitement of scholarly inquiry and discovery. Considering these works as pendants offers an allegorical interpretation: the astronomer, student of the heavens, searches for spiritual guidance; the geographer, student of the earth, charts the proper course for temporal life.

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