Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Vermeer's Geographer, 1669-2020

The Geographer, Vermeer 1668-1669
Another Geographer, Pam Hayes-Bohanan 2020
People have found some very creative ways to make the best of the boredom that ensues when our civic duty requires us to #stayhome during the global Coronavirus pandemic. One I just learned about from a student is the Getty Museum Challenge, in which people recreate famous works of art by modeling with materials already in their own homes.

When I saw what my student had done -- and before I realized it had already become so widespread -- my mind went immediately to The Geographer by Johannes Vermeer. I have long thought that a younger version of me looked quite a lot like Vermeer's model; Pam soon started identifying props in our house. A scheme was hatched!

Before creating the scene, I had spent some (minimal) time learning more about the painting. From Dianne Durante's "A Moment of Insight" I learned that there is some dispute about whether the wall in the original is exactly the same color as the wall in our living room. We are going to say, "YES!" More importantly, I learned about the importance of each prop and some ways to think about the differences in the state of mind between The Geographer and The Astronomer, which Vermeer had painted just the year before.


Some notes on the props: As a geographer, I should -- and once did -- have the dividers (a.k.a. compass) for making measurements on the map. My father gave me his long ago, and it is probably in my office. The office is only 600 yards from our house, but I decided that this would be against the spirit both of the challenge and of the #stayhome orders. Moreover, I was not sure they would be found. Chopsticks to the rescue!

I do not have any 350-year-old maps, but I do have a 90-year-old atlas, so I opened it to a map of the Netherlands and set it upon our National Geographic pouffe. An old map tapestry that used to be in our house is no more, but I realized that the tones of one of my favorite summer shirts would be a reasonable stand-in, so I draped it over the pouffe.

The globe is one of those stone-inlay items that used to be super-expensive until they became mass-market. From a distance, its frame works well. For the books, I thought about some anonymous old leather-bound books we have, but I grabbed a handful of Tolkien instead. He was my first somewhat scholarly interest, and during her tenure at a bookstore while we were dating, Pam helped me to build a pretty complete collection of his work.

Pam recognized the importance of the scroll that the original Geographer was leaning on; not having a scroll handy, she found a serviceable shelf!

Finally, I trimmed my beard for the photo, but did not shave it. Having accidently left my razor at a friend's house in Vancouver, Washington in 1996 without turning back, I decided against giving up the beard for my art.

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