The Night Sky in the Age of Vermeer: The Astronomer in Context
August 8, 2009 through January 10, 2010
Minneapolis, July 27, 2009—To coincide with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ (MIA) exhibition “The Louvre and the Masterpiece” this fall, the museum is mounting a related exhibition that focuses on the Louvre show’s painting, The Astronomer (1668), by Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675). “The Night Sky in the Age of Vermeer: The Astronomer in Context,” on view August 8, 2009, through January 10, 2010, will bring visitors into the scientific and cultural world of 17th-century astronomy through an examination of the prints, books, scientific instruments, and other objects Vermeer depicted in his intriguing and beautiful masterpiece. It is fitting that the museum is presenting an exhibition on this topic, as 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), designated by the United Nations, UNESCO, and the International Astronomical Union, to help the citizens of the world rediscover and reflect on the 400 years of changing perspectives about the universe since Galileo first used the telescope to study the skies.
“The Night Sky” will be presented in one gallery, creating an intimate environment filled with objects similar to those shown in Vermeer’s painting. Drawing mainly on the MIA’s strong collection of large, hand-colored prints, the exhibition presents a range of interpretations of the cosmos. “The Night Sky” will be enriched by two key loans in October – the astrolabe and Gerard Mercator’s celestial globe, both from the Adler Planetarium in Chicago – when “The Louvre and the Masterpiece” opens.
In Vermeer’s painting, the astronomer is represented studying and turning a celestial globe; an elaborate brass astrolabe and a copy of Adriaan Metius’s 1621 astronomy book are found on his desk. The globe and astrolabe, borrowed from the Adler Planetarium, and the book borrowed from the James Ford Bell Library in Minneapolis, provide a tangible link to Vermeer’s painting and the world of astronomy in his time. A Japanese robe, similar to the one worn in Vermeer’s Astronomer, will bring the painting to life.
Each object in Vermeer’s painting was carefully selected not only to create a beautiful room, but also to signify the astronomer’s worldly sophistication and scholarly intellect. This ancillary show will unpack Vermeer’s masterpiece, showcase the MIA’s print collection, and illuminate important themes in the painting, and in the Louvre exhibition.
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