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Vermeer's Hat : The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World
by Timothy Brook

Overview - In the hands of an award-winning historian, Vermeer's dazzling paintings become windows that reveal how daily life and thought--from Delft to Beijing--were transformed in the seventeenth century, when the world first became global. A painting shows a military officer in a Dutch sitting room, talking to a laughing girl.  Read more...

 
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More About Vermeer's Hat by Timothy Brook
 
 
 
Overview
In the hands of an award-winning historian, Vermeer's dazzling paintings become windows that reveal how daily life and thought--from Delft to Beijing--were transformed in the seventeenth century, when the world first became global. A painting shows a military officer in a Dutch sitting room, talking to a laughing girl. In another, a woman at a window weighs pieces of silver. Vermeer's images captivate us with their beauty and mystery: What stories lie behind these stunningly rendered moments? As Timothy Brook shows us, these pictures, which seem so intimate, actually offer a remarkable view of a rapidly expanding world. The officer's dashing hat is made of beaver fur, which European explorers got from Native Americans in exchange for weapons. Those beaver pelts, in turn, financed the voyages of sailors seeking new routes to China. There--with silver mined in Peru--Europeans would purchase, by the thousands, the porcelains so often shown in Dutch paintings of this time. Moving outward from Vermeer's studio, Brook traces the web of trade that was spreading across the globe. The wharves of Holland, wrote a French visitor, were "an inventory of the possible." "Vermeer's Hat" shows just how rich this inventory was, and how the urge to acquire the goods of distant lands was refashioning the world more powerfully than we have yet understood. Timothy Brook completed this book while a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow. He holds the Shaw Chair in Chinese Studies at Oxford University and is the author of many books, including the award-winning "Confusions of Pleasure." A painting shows a military officer in a Dutch sitting room, talking to a laughing girl. In another, a woman at a window weighs pieces of silver. The beauty and mystery of Vermeer's images are captivating. What stories lie behind these moments rendered on canvas? Timothy Brook shows that these pictures, which seem so intimate, actually offer a remarkable view of a rapidly expanding world. The officer's dashing hat is made of beaver fur, which European explorers got from Native Americans in exchange for weapons. Those beaver pelts, in turn, financed the voyages of sailors seeking new routes to China. There--with silver mined in Peru--Europeans would purchase, by the thousands, the porcelains so often shown in Dutch paintings of this time. Moving outward from Vermeer's studio, Brook traces the web of trade that was spreading across the globe. The wharves of Holland, wrote a French visitor, were "an inventory of the possible." "Vermeer's Hat" shows how rich this inventory was, and how the urge to acquire the goods of distant lands was refashioning the world more powerfully than we have yet understood. "For those who think they have mastered all the ins and outs of the seventeenth century Netherlands and particularly the country portrayed by the marvelously stay-at-home Dutch painters, Timothy Brook's fine book provides a shock. By way of Vermeer's pictures, he takes us through doorways into a suddenly wider universe, in which tobacco, slaves, spices, beaver pelts, China bowls, and South American silver are wrenching together hitherto well-insulated peoples. We hear behind the willow-pattern calm the crash of waves and cannon. A common humanity with a shared history comes about, with handshakes and treaties, shipwrecks and massacres, as trade expands and the world shrinks."--Anthony Bailey, author of "Vermeer: A View of Delft""" ""Vermeer's Hat" is a deftly eclectic book, in which Timothy Brook uses details drawn from the great painter's work as a series of entry points to the widest circles of world trade and cultural exchange in the seventeenth century. From the epicenter of Delft, Brook takes his readers on a journey that encompasses Chinese porcelain and beaver pelts, global temperatures and firearms, shipwrecked sailors and their companions, silver mines and Manila galleons. It is a book full of surprising pleasures."--Jonathan Spence, author of "The Death of Woman Wang," "In Search of Modern China, " and "The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci""" " "Vermeer's Hat"] is . . . beautifully executed . . . In Timothy Brook's hands, Vermeer's paintings really do become windows on the past, illuminating a fascinating period in which the world was being remade by global trade."--Tom Standage, author of "A History of the World in Six Glasses" "Thanks to Brook's roving and insatiably curious gaze, Vermeer's small scenes widen onto the broad panorama of world history: everything from shipwrecks and massacres to global weather patterns and the history of tobacco. The result is like one of Vermeer's trademark reflective pearls that magically reveals a world beyond itself. A more entertaining guide to world history--and to Vermeer--is difficult to imagine."--Ross King, author of "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling" and "Brunelleschi's Dome"

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9781596914445
  • ISBN-10: 1596914440
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • Publish Date: December 2007
  • Page Count: 272


Related Categories

Books > History > Modern - 17th Century
Books > Art > History - Baroque & Rococo

 
BookPage Reviews

The world according to Vermeer

Every time you call an outsourced computer help desk in Mumbai, you're continuing a tradition of international commerce that began as soon as human beings figured out how to cross mountains and oceans. But in a more practical sense, modern globalization has its origins in the 17th century, when European encounters with Asia and the Americas solidified into worldwide maritime trade routes.

The Netherlands, that small but vigorous nation, played a seminal role in the process, and its merchants grew rich. Flush with cash, they adorned their houses with representational paintings of their belongings and their hometowns, and those paintings reflected the new economic forces at play. In the marvelous Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World, Timothy Brook, a professor of Chinese studies at Oxford, teases out the global interconnections revealed by humble objects depicted in the works of Johannes Vermeer, the period's quiet master.

Brook's many previous books focus on Chinese history, but he knows the Netherlands well, and rightly sees Vermeer's Delft as a microcosm of the era's international commercial surge. That warehouse in the background of "The View from Delft"? The Delft office of the Dutch East India Company. The dish holding fruit in "Young Woman Reading a Letter from an Open Window"? Porcelain from the booming China trade.

The object of the book's title, the big felt hat worn by the man whose back we see in "Officer and Laughing Girl," proves a launching pad for a trip through the Canadian beaver fur trade, pioneered by the French as a sideshow in their failed effort to find a new route to East Asia.

The tidbits are fascinating in their own right, but Brook has a larger point, relevant to our own time: We need to narrate the past in a way that recognizes connections, not just divisions. Our 17th-century forbears, the smart ones anyway, were people who figured out how to cross cultural lines. The results were mixed, but good or bad, they're still worth contemplating.

Anne Bartlett is a journalist in Washington, D.C.

 
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