Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century And The Dawn Of The Global World By Timothy Brook

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

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


In this critical darling Vermeer's captivating and enigmatic paintings become windows that reveal how daily life and thought-from Delft to Beijing--were transformed in the 17th century, when the world first became global.

A Vermeer painting displays a military officer in a Dutch sitting room, talking to a laughing girl. In another canvas, fruit spills from a blue-and-white porcelain bowl. Familiar images that captivate us with their beauty but as Timothy Brook shows us, these intimate pictures actually give us a remarkable view of an expanding world. The officer's dashing head covering is made of beaver fur from North America, and it was beaver pelts from America that financed the voyages of explorers seeking routes to China-prized for the porcelains so often shown in Dutch paintings of this time, including Vermeer's. In this dazzling history, Timothy Brook values Vermeer's works, and other contemporary images from Europe, Asia, and the Americas to trace the rapidly growing world broad web of global trade, and the explosive, transforming, and sometimes destructive changes it wrought in the age when globalization really began.


So while one might have anticipated these mini-histories to be characterized depressingly by unscrupulous buccaneering Europeans exploiting trusting natives in a relentless process of global looting, it is encouraging to find that this was often not the case. In the case of the beaver pelts, for example, it seems to have been in numerous ways a win-win situation. On the one hand, items swapped by the French for beaver pelts cost only a 20th of what the pelts could be traded for in Paris. On the other hand, beaver pelts were of comparatively little worth to the Native Americans, while what they could be swapped for were of immense utility and therefore value. 'The beaver does everything perfectly well', one trapper discerned with satisfaction. 'It makes kettles, hatchets, swords, blades, bread; and, in short, it makes everything'. Each side thought they were getting the better part of the bargain and consequently everyone was more than satisfied. The trade inevitably flourished.

Brook uses the Buddhist concept of Indra's net, which recounts the interconnectedness of all phenomena to help understand the multiplicity of causes and effects producing the way we are and the way we were. When Indra made the world, he made it as a web, knotting a pearl at every point at which distinct strands converged. 'Everything that exists or has ever lived, every concept that can be considered about, every datum that is factual … is a pearl in Indra's net'. In the same way, the journeys through Brook's picture-portals intersect with each other, at the identical time shedding light on each other.

Why does Brook start his story in Delft? He agrees that there are numerous other points that are pearls in Indra's web from which we could have begun these ...
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