PDS et al., there's loads of stuff about Vermeer on this board, and lots else pertaining to visual arts.
Here's a link to the second page of a search on "Vermeer" in Jonathan's posts. (I don't know how to get a link to the first page of a search to hold.)
If you click on the number in the upper right-hand corner of a post, you'll be taken to the post in context on the thread where it appears.
Here's a link to the middle of a discussion of Rand on "subject" with specific reference to Vermeer.
If you skip and jump -- more or less ignoring some of the posters -- you can find a whole lot of interesting stuff, including many images of paintings. Plus a dispute between Jonathan and Dragonfly, who's a skilled amateur painter, as to whether or not Vermeer used a camera obscura. (Warning, especially wise to skip and jump with Victor Pross's posts, many of which include plagiarized material.)
I'll look for some further direct links later this evening or tomorrow if I get a chance.
Ellen: thank you for these links.
Apart from Jonathan's trademark use of the sharp-blade-with-a-twist, I found this comment about The Geographer most interesting: "I said earlier that I think that "a man in deep thought" is somewhat the subject of The Geographer. What I meant was that it's not an accurate description of the subject, but it's kind of close. I think a better description of the subject would be something more like "the feeling of the play of light, contemplation and clarity of mind." The man is not the subject, but the feeling of what he's doing in combination with the feeling of the light and the symphony of colors, shapes and proportions is the subject." [Post 18511].
When I see such depth of thought about these subjects, I am embarrassed that there exists in the corner of my basement a little painting studio with brushes I have tried to use. Why? Because painting seems to be mostly about seeing light, and the play of light, and I just don't do it very well.
When I see The Geographer, I see more than anything introspection, even in the manner and direction in which the subject holds his compass. Keep in mind that The Geographer was created in the full midst of a pre-Shakespeare world, i.e., the "introspective" world that people such as Harold Bloom believe Shakespeare invented, and in which we moderns take for granted. This is what makes "the look" in The Geographer's eyes so significant, for me at least.
Jonathan's concise statement above pretty much eliminates my feeble explanation, and I think rightfully so. He sees the painting as an artist, and I see/saw it as a dabbler in his basement studio (with, not incidentally, bad light...)
Reminds me of the great line from Judge Smails in Caddyshack: "the world needs ditch diggers too, Danny."