Unless new documents emerge there
can be no definitive answer to this question, and it is only possible
to speculate. There are however a number of plausible candidates
among 17th century students of optics. The prime candidate for
the role of Vermeer's 'optical consultant' is Antony van Leeuwenhoek,
the pioneer of microscopy, who was Vermeer's exact contemporary,
a fellow-citizen of Delft, and who disposed of Vermeer's estate
when he died. Some critics have even wondered whether Leeuwenhoek
was the sitter for Vermeer's two paintings of scholars in their
studies, 'The Geographer' and 'The Astronomer'. Two other distinguished
contemporaries are known to have visited Vermeer: Constantijn
Huygens, and the French savant and traveller Balthasar de Monconys.
Both men combined a love of art with deep interests in the telescope
and the microscope.
Vermeer, 'The Geographer'
c.1668-69, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, oil on canvas 56
x 47.5 cm.