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

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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 ...

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

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Elegant and quietly important…. Brook does more than merely sketch the beginnings of globalization and highlight the forces that brought our modern world into being; rather, he offers a timely reminder of humanity's interdependence." —Seattle Times

"This book will certainly make you look differently at Vermeer's paintings, as you imagine the greater context of the time period and ponder the acquisition of seemingly minor objects. An insightful read for historians and art historians alike and a fine guide into the rewards of studying material culture."--Library Journal

"Brook utilizes the props in Vermeer's tableaux as starting points to journey into the cultural and economic world of the time: A teacup pours forth the history of the porcelain trade with China, while a felt hat is traced to beaver trapping in North America. It's a fascinating approach to cultural history, providing new ways of thinking about the origins of commonplace objects." —Entertainment Weekly, A grade, EW Pick

"Marvelous….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." Bookpage

“…effective and illuminating….A magic-carpet conducted by a genial, learned host.” Kirkus Reviews

"Brook...accomplishes his task...with authority and economy.” Booklist

"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 an absolutely wonderful idea, beautifully executed (and I wish I'd thought of it). 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 The Judgment of Paris, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling and Brunelleschi’s Dome

“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

Michael Dirda
Commercially, the 17th century was an age of silver, tobacco and slaves, and Brook shows how the three interconnect to form an intricate economic network. This new international economy is revealed in every aspect of life, not only in the account books of the [Dutch East India Company] and the histories of the Jesuit missionaries in China and Latin America, but also in the items depicted in paintings by a Delft artist who died young. All our experience is global. As Brook writes in his final chapter, "If we can see that the history of any one place links us to all places, and ultimately to the history of the entire world, then there is no part of the past—no holocaust and no achievement—that is not our collective heritage." Vermeer's Hat shows how this is true of the 17th century and by so doing provides not only valuable historical insight but also enthralling intellectual entertainment.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Brook (Chinese studies, Oxford Univ.; Confusions of Pleasure ) takes a distinctive look at the global economy and world trade in the 17th century in this captivating work. He uses works of art, in particular by the Dutch painter Vermeer, as windows into that specific time in Delft (Vermeer's hometown and home to a chamber of the Dutch East India Company ) and as conduits into other aspects of the emerging world. Through specific paintings such as Officer and Laughing Girl and Woman Holding a Balance , Brook takes the reader on adventures across countries, continents, and trade routes in the era's quest for beaver pelts, Chinese porcelain (i.e., china ), tobacco, and silver, and shows men and women caught up in the "whirlpool of global movement." This book will certainly make you look differently at Vermeer's paintings, as you imagine the greater context of the time period and ponder the acquisition of seemingly minor objects. An insightful read for historians and art historians alike and a fine guide into the rewards of studying material culture. Recommended for both academic and public libraries.-Susanne Markgren, SUNY at Purchase Lib.

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Details in the noted Dutch artist's paintings lead readers through doorways into the period when the world was becoming increasingly interconnected. Brook (Chinese Studies/Oxford Univ.; Collaboration: Japanese Agents and Local Elites in Wartime China, 2005, etc.) begins several decades ago, when he crashed his bicycle near Delft. This happy accident led to his initial viewing of Vermeer's grave in a local church, and eventually to this book. The author's narrative strategy is effective and illuminating. He first discusses Vermeer's View of Delft, directing attention to the roofline of the Dutch East India Company-from which Brook advances the interesting story of the company's history and its major role in early globalization. The eponymous chapter, perhaps the book's strongest, uses Vermeer's Officer and Laughing Girl to describe and analyze the North American beaver trade. The officer sports a large hat made of felt, which was manufactured from the beaver's underfur. Brook enriches the scene with background material on relations between indigenous North Americans and the rapacious invaders, which inevitably led to bloodshed. (A graphic description of a ritual torture makes rough reading.) Subsequent chapters range over vast geographical and cultural terrain, examining objects and people in paintings by Vermeer and a few contemporaries, stressing throughout their global implications. In such fashion, we learn much-occasionally too much-about Chinese porcelain, Delft pottery, globes, Jesuits and Dominicans in China, the differences between Chinese and European soups, the tobacco and opium trades, African slavery, the emergence of silver as the most desired metal and the spread of prizedobjects around the shrinking globe. A magic-carpet conducted by a genial, learned host. Agent: Beverly Slopen/Beverley Slopen Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596914445
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 12/26/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.57 (w) x 9.16 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Maps xi

1 The View from Delft 1

2 Vermeer's Hat 26

3 A Dish of Fruit 54

4 Geography Lessons 84

5 School for Smoking 117

6 Weighing Silver 152

7 Journeys 185

8 Endings: No Man is an Island 217

Acknowledgments 231

Appendix Chinese and Japanese Publications 233

Recommended Reading and Sources 235

Notes 259

Index 263

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 9, 2013

    The interesting view points and the invigorated writing make thi

    The interesting view points and the invigorated writing make this a very good book -- but it should have had the art pieces included. I looked them up on the Net so I don't think it means one star to not have the pictures; the writing and ideas surmount the absence of the art work. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2013

    Buy the hard copy not the Nook version. They actually published

    Buy the hard copy not the Nook version. They actually published a book about a painter and did not include the paintings in the ebook version. Outrageous.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted September 20, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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