"In this very engaging work, Timothy Brook, a specialist in Chinese history, imaginatively 'reads' paintings by Johannes Vermeer for subtle indicators of the increasing interconnectedness of the world in which the famous Dutch artist lived. Brook calls the seventeenth century a time of 'second contacts'—which he distinguishes from the 'first contacts' that characterized the earlier age of discovery, and from the age of imperialism that came later—and argues that it was in the seventeenth century that 'interactions' between societies culturally and geographically distant from one another became 'more sustained and likelier to be repeated,' thereby qualifying that century as the 'dawn of the global world.' In this creative blend of social, cultural and art history, Brook succeeds in capturing the dynamism of the seventeenth-century world, the flow of people and goods across oceans, the way things took on new meanings when relocated from one setting to another. He accomplishes this by tracing the complex stories behind certain easy-to-overlook objects that Vermeer placed in his paintings—the hat worn by the man in Officer and Laughing Girl, the blue and white china dish containing fruit in Young Woman Reading a Letter at an Open Window, the silver coins on the table in Woman Holding a Balance. How did the felt in the hat get to Holland, where did the dish come from, what did silver signify and what could it buy within the various societies through which it traveled? In exploring such questions Brook establishes how globally integrated Vermeer's era was and also how integration led to 'transculturation' (a term he borrows from Cuban historian Fernando Ortiz) . . . [Brook] makes clear that commerce drove global integration in the seventeenth century but avoids getting bogged down in lengthy analysis of the complex factors that promoted and institutionally supported it. Brook is less interested here in politics, in the role of states, or in how economies of scale worked, than he is in exciting meetings between people and societies and the impact those had on minds and material cultures . . . Rich with obviously consequential information, Vermeer's Hat should work very well in the classroom. Students will enjoy and learn much from the stories Brook tells, and because each chapter can be read in stand alone fashion, teachers will find that this book allows them great flexibility in terms of assignments and lesson design . . . Brook's expertise . . . enables him to write authoritatively about a critically important dimension of the seventeenth-century world . . . Vermeer's Hat is a tribute to the collective work of the historical discipline, which becomes richer and more profound as more scholars venture across sub-disciplinary boundaries to encounter new people, and with those people engage in the repeated and sustained conversations that enable them to write—hopefully as artfully as Timothy Brook—new works of global history that reveal ours as a time of exciting 'second contacts.'"—Timothy B. Weston, University of Colorado, World History Connected"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."—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post"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"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"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"Effective and illuminating . . . A magic-carpet conducted by a genial, learned host."—Kirkus Reviews"Brook . . . accomplishes his task . . . with authority and economy.” —Booklist"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"In this well-researched volume, Brook, Oxford historian of China, presents a unique, insightful view of the early stages of globalization. But rather than begin his analysis in Shanghai, as one might expect, Brook focuses on 17th-century Delft, a smallish town on the outskirts of The Hague that was home to the great Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-75). Brook's reason for doing so quickly becomes clear. Throughout his study, Brook directs careful attention to a handful of seemingly mundane objects present in Vermeer's paintings. He masterfully traces Vermeer's porcelains, tobacco, slaves, furs, species, and spices to the Americas, Africa, the Indian Ocean, and China. The resulting book is much more than another study of the European companies' rise to greatness. Brook produces a seamless treatment of the rapidly globalizing 17th-century world that emphasizes connectivity over agency. The volume's careful production, up-to-date research, and engaging prose make it especially suited for use in the growing number of world history courses, both at introductory and more advanced levels. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers, lower-division undergraduates and above."—S. C. Levi, Ohio State University, Choice magazine
"Brook 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."—Susanne Markgren, SUNY at Purchase Library, Library Journal
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.