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Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and…
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Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World (2008)

by Timothy Brook

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316835,147 (3.67)30
Recently added byphilipanderson, private library, HectorSwell, KarlyHansen14, 2manybooksUK, proustitute
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  1. 00
    The Coffee Trader by David Liss (Limelite)
    Limelite: Fiction, but same era and locale and the subject is global trade. Only the emphasis is on manipulations and maneuverings.
  2. 00
    Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (myshelves)
    myshelves: Historical novel featuring Vermeer.
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An intriguing slant on history, Timothy Brook tells of how he first became acquainted with the works of Vermeer as a teenager touring around Holland. He selects five of the artist's paintings, along with three other works by Vermeer's contemporaries, and looks at various items depicted therein. He investigates these items more closely to show how, though they may seem commonplace, they also betoken the extraordinary trade and commercial networks that had already been formed around the world by the mid-seventeenth century. On the way he throws in potted histories of the European colonisation of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the development of trade between Europe and Japan and China.
Occasionally rather contrived, on balance this proved an engaging book ( )
  Eyejaybee | May 1, 2013 |
In the manner of James Burke’s "Connections" for PBS, Brook tells the fascinating story of European contact and establishing commercial trade partnerships with people and cultures from Asia to Canada. Highly readable history of the Dutch East India Company, European politics, and the mutual exchange of influence and impact between Europeans and the world beyond.

This is the way one should learn history.

Author is professor of Chinese history at Oxford University and has written 6 vol. "History of China" that I’d like to get hold of. ( )
  Limelite | Dec 9, 2012 |
Brooks uses the objects and actions shown in scenes painted by Vermeer to spark an exploration of the history of European exploration and conquest. The hat in question, of the beaver felt returned to fashion because trade with North America had provided a new supply of pelt, leads to discussion of the exploration of Canada, the search for the Northwest Passage and related topics. Good for a sense of the era and some interesting details, but not a systematic work. The author is actually a specialist in Chinese history.
  ritaer | Jul 24, 2012 |
If you're looking for a book detailing the influence of commercial trade in China around the mid 17th century then you've found a gem. If you're looking for a book about Vermeer's paintings then I suggest you pick something else. We're treated to a wonderful depiction of life in the 17th century and the book sets a new standard by which textbooks for high school should be judged. The author uses one important principle to make the book come alive: history is not about places, facts and events. It's about people.

It's sad then to see nothing of Vermeer's personality and those of the inhabitants of Delft in this book. In fact by the end of the book the reader has gained a much better insight into the nature and lifestyle of the Chinese during this period. Considering that the author is an expert on Chinese history, this is not surprising. The author is definitely not an author on Dutch history. For example the name kraakporcelein, as anyone in the Netherlands would be able to guess, comes from the verb 'kraken' (to break) and not from the not even remotely similarly sounding name for the Portugese ships called Carracks. If the word has to be derived from another word then it makes more sense that it came from the word for giant monster octopus: the Kraken. That word from the Old Norse noun kraka means "to drag under the water", which is what apparently happened a lot with porcelein during the 17th century. We learn from reading the book Vermeer's Hat. Irony perhaps?

Similarly the author reliably convinces the reader that the common currency in the Netherlands around the time of Vermeer was the guilder, even though everyone in Holland knows that up until the middle of the 17th century the currency was called the Florijn or in English the Florin, from the Italian influence of Florence. Vermeer was very much active when this changeover occurs but nowhere in the book is this mentioned. The usage of Florijn was so strong and prevalent that just before the changeover to Euros the Dutch symbol for currency was and had been: 'fl'.

It is difficult to evaluate this book, or perhaps novel, because the narrative technique is superb for a history book, but the contents is confusing. One chapter even clearly mentions that that section has no connection with any of Vermeer's paintings. What then is the point? It has to be said that there is a good deal of information in the book regarding Vermeer's work, although by now I'm highly doubtful about it's accuracy. Still, it is a wonderful book to read and it definitely portrays an immersive painting of life in the 17th century in China. ( )
  TheCriticalTimes | Oct 2, 2010 |
I rate this book right up there with "The Discovery of France" as one of those social histories that completely changes how you think about the past and the world. Brook uses several paintings of Vermeer (plus two Dutch painting by other artists and one piece of "delftware") to peer into the 17th century, focusing especially on trade relations between the Netherlands and China, though with plenty of Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Bolivia, the Philippines, Korea, and Japan thrown in the mix--after all this is a study of incipient globalization. The actual details are often fascinating and bizarre; the moral of the story (and he does point out that it is a moral) is the urgent necessity of functioning with a global imagination, prepared for cultural and linguistic translation, looking upon the human race as one family and not tribes pitted against each other. And the book will convince you afresh that the only mystery more mysterious than God Almighty is the Economy. ( )
  SarahEHWilson | Jun 14, 2010 |
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Our arrivals at meaning and at value are momentary / pauses in the ongoing dialogue with others from which / meaning and value spring. - Gary Tomlinson, Music in Renaissance Magic
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The summer I was twenty, I bought a bicycle in Amsterdam and cycled southwest across the Low Countries on what would be the final leg of a journey that took me from Dubrovnik on the Adriatic to Ben Nevis in Scotland.
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"In one painting, a Dutch military Officer leans toward a laughing girl. In another, a woman at a window weighs pieces of silver. In a third, fruit spills from a porcelain bowl onto a Turkish carpet. Vermeer's images haunt us with their beauty and mystery--what stories lie behind these exquisitely rendered moments? As Timothy Brook shows us in Vermeer's Hat, these pictures, which seem so intimate, actually open doors onto a rapidly expanding world." "The dashing officer's hat is made of beaver fur, which European explorers got from Native Americans in exchange for weapons. 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." "Timothy Brook traces the rapidly growing web of trade that might bring a beaver pelt, a Turkish carpet, or a Chinese bowl to a sitting room in Delft. 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 such things was refashioning the world more thoroughly than anyone quite realized. It offers us a rich new understanding both of Vermeer's paintings and of the era they portray."--From publisher description.… (more)

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