Faust (The Scholar in His Study), c. 1652

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The close connection of Vermeer's Astronomer to Rembrandt's famous etching Faust has been widely recognized. Vermeer clearly drew inspiration from Rembrandt's work, which shows a scholar alone in his shadowy library, standing-not sitting-at his desk, absorbed in contemplation, his face and thoughts illuminated by the diffused light from a stained glass window. The desk of Vermeer's young scholar is arrayed much like the work surface in the print, with a table carpet, open books, and a prominent celestial globe.

In Rembrandt's etching, a mystical apparition dominates the scene: a luminous medallion, encoded with letters, and a pair of hands, one of which points to a puzzling oval disk, sometimes identified as a mirror, sometimes as an astrolabe. This enigmatic scholar has been variously interpreted as an alchemist or the literary character Dr. Faustus, who surrendered his soul to the devil for unlimited knowledge. Vermeer brings the scene down to Earth in his painting, yet he captured some of the evocative qualities of Rembrandt's work to enliven the interior world of a scholar in search of esoteric knowledge.

Faust (The Scholar in His Study)
Artist Life
1606 - 1669
Accession Number
Catalogue Raisonne
Hind 260 iii/iii; Holl.270 iii/iii; B. 270; M.275 iii/iv; B-B. 52-4 iii/iv
Curator Approved

This record has been reviewed by our curatorial staff but may be incomplete. These records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email collectionsdata@artsmia.org.

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