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 pastno holocaust and no achievementthat 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
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.
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
"Thanks to Brook's roving and insatiably curious gaze, Vermeer's small scenes widen onto the broad panorama of world history . . . 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 JUDGEMENT OF PARIS, MICHELANGELO, and THE POPE'S CEILING AND BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME
"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
"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
"[An] elegant and quietly important book" - San Francisco Chronicle
"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