Natural philosophers were a favourite subject of early modern artists. The Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer is famous for his interior scenes; here he shows an astronomer at work in his study. Vermeer’s astronomer is not looking up at the night sky, but consulting books and instruments. Astronomical knowledge in the early modern period was often obtained through abstracted, diagrammatic representations of the physical universe. Learning about the heavens involved consulting books and models far more than gazing at the skies. Warm light from the window falls upon the globe, the book, and the astronomer’s face, and the placement of his hands reinforces this triangular focus.
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