Vermeer's Hat

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Vermeer's Hat
Vermeer's Hat.jpg
The front cover of Vermeer's Hat.
Author Timothy Brook
Country London, England
Publisher Bloomsbury Press, Profile Books
Publication date
26 December 2007, 16 July 2009
Media typePrint (Hardback, Paperback)
Pages288 pp.
ISBN 1-59691-444-0 (hardback),
ISBN   1-84668-120-0 (paperback)

Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World is a book by the Canadian historian Professor Timothy Brook, in which he explores the roots of world trade in the 17th century through six paintings by the Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer. [1] It focuses especially on growing ties between Europe and the rest of the world and the impact of China on the world, during what Brook sees as an "age of innovation" and improvisation. [2]

Historian person who studies and writes about the past

A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past, and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is concerned with events preceding written history, the individual is a historian of prehistory. Some historians are recognized by publications or training and experience. "Historian" became a professional occupation in the late nineteenth century as research universities were emerging in Germany and elsewhere.

Timothy Brook Canadian university professor, historian

Timothy James Brook is a Canadian historian, sinologist, and writer specializing in the study of China (sinology). He holds the Republic of China Chair, Department of History, University of British Columbia.

International trade Exchanges across international borders

International trade is the exchange of capital, goods, and services across international borders or territories.



Brook argues that globalization, which is often taken to be a modern (i.e. late-20th/21st-century) phenomenon, actually had its roots in the 17th century; [3] and he states that it was his intention to surprise his readers with this information, that "people and goods and ideas were moving around the world in ways that their ancestors had no idea was possible." [2] The growth in trade and exploration was facilitated in part by advances in navigation and in shipbuilding technology and also, according to the author, was driven along when European nations such as "England, the Netherlands and France started to fight their way into the trade." [2]

Globalization or globalisation is the process of interaction and integration among people, companies, and governments worldwide. As a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, globalization is considered by some as a form of capitalist expansion which entails the integration of local and national economies into a global, unregulated market economy. Globalization has grown due to advances in transportation and communication technology. With the increased global interactions comes the growth of international trade, ideas, and culture. Globalization is primarily an economic process of interaction and integration that's associated with social and cultural aspects. However, conflicts and diplomacy are also large parts of the history of globalization, and modern globalization.

Exploration The act of traveling and searching for resources or for information about the land or space itself

Exploration is the act of searching for the purpose of discovery of information or resources. Exploration occurs in all non-sessile animal species, including humans. In human history, its most dramatic rise was during the Age of Discovery when European explorers sailed and charted much of the rest of the world for a variety of reasons. Since then, major explorations after the Age of Discovery have occurred for reasons mostly aimed at information discovery.

Navigation The process of monitoring and controlling the movement of a craft or vehicle from one place to another

Navigation is a field of study that focuses on the process of monitoring and controlling the movement of a craft or vehicle from one place to another. The field of navigation includes four general categories: land navigation, marine navigation, aeronautic navigation, and space navigation.

By studying and analyzing the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, beginning with his landscape View of Delft , and examining the scant documents detailing his life, the author builds up a picture of the world in which Vermeer lived; and from this he finds evidence of socioeconomic phenomena and globalization. [2] In the case of the port in Delft in the Netherlands, for example, he finds evidence of the Dutch East India Company's operations. This is often said to be the world's first multinational corporation, [4] which competing traders were forced to join; it had quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, negotiate treaties, coin money, and establish colonies, [5] and played a powerful and prominent role in trade between the Dutch and Asia, including China. [2]

Socioeconomics is the social science that studies how economic activity affects and is shaped by social processes. In general it analyzes how societies progress, stagnate, or regress because of their local or regional economy, or the global economy. Societies are divided into 3 groups: social, cultural and economic.

Delft City and municipality in South Holland, Netherlands

Delft is a city and municipality in the province of South Holland, Netherlands. It is located between Rotterdam, to the southeast, and The Hague, to the northwest. Together with them, it is part of both Rotterdam–The Hague metropolitan area and the Randstad.

The Dutch East India Company was an early megacorporation founded by a government-directed amalgamation of several rival Dutch trading companies (voorcompagnieën) in the early 17th century. It was established on March 20, 1602 as a chartered company to trade with India and Indianised Southeast Asian countries when the Dutch government granted it a 21-year monopoly on the Dutch spice trade. It has been often labelled a trading company or sometimes a shipping company. However, VOC was in fact a proto-conglomerate company, diversifying into multiple commercial and industrial activities such as international trade, shipbuilding, and both production and trade of East Indian spices, Formosan sugarcane, and South African wine.. The Company was a transcontinental employer and an early pioneer of outward foreign direct investment. The Company's investment projects helped raise the commercial and industrial potential of many underdeveloped or undeveloped regions of the world in the early modern period. In the early 1600s, by widely issuing bonds and shares of stock to the general public, VOC became the world's first formally-listed public company. In other words, it was the first corporation to be listed on an official stock exchange. It was influential in the rise of corporate-led globalisation in the early modern period.

The painting entitled Officer and Laughing Girl , which is shown on the front cover of the book and to which the title alludes, speaks to Brook of the interest people had in the world, which is reflected in the maps of the world frequently seen on walls in paintings, [2] showing a patriotic pride which went along with the emergence of the Netherlands from Spanish occupation, and the painting is also used to examine trade between Europe and North America. [2] The huge felt hat itself, Brook says, is made of beaver under-fur and the origin of that would be via French traders operating in North America. [2] This being before the discovery of the Northwest Passage, the French had been commissioned to find a route to China, and the beaver fur simply helped them "cover their costs." [2] From here, the narrative goes on to talk of other commodities which were available in abundance and traded in the Americas, such as sugar, tobacco, copper, wood in the 18th century, slaves from Africa, and the metallic artefacts and guns which were given in exchange. [2]

<i>Officer and Laughing Girl</i> 17th-century painting by Johannes Vermeer

Officer and Laughing Girl, also known as Officer and a Laughing Girl, Officer With a Laughing Girl or De Soldaat en het Lachende Meisje, was painted by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer between 1655 and 1660. It was painted in oil on canvas, typical of most Dutch artists of the time, and is 50.5 by 46 cm. It now resides in The Frick Collection in New York.

North America Continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere

North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere; it is also considered by some to be a northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean, and to the southeast by South America and the Caribbean Sea.

Felt type of textile made from matted fibres

Felt is a textile material that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together. Felt can be made of natural fibers such as wool or animal fur, or from synthetic fibers such as petroleum-based acrylic or acrylonitrile or wood pulp-based rayon. Blended fibers are also common.

In the painting Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window , there is a large Chinese porcelain bowl in the foreground (standing on a Turkish carpet), and Brook uses this to introduce the subject of trade with China. [2] Chinese porcelain was just becoming more widely available and featured in many paintings. The porcelain grew very popular in households in Vermeer's time as its price came down and it became affordable to less wealthy families. [2] In sharp contrast to the necessary outward-looking gaze of countries in Europe, the stereotypical view of China was that it had "an adequate resource base for most of its needs, an advanced technology and was not having to look outside of itself for things that it needed." [2] However, Brook maintains that the Chinese did venture out of their country to trade during lengthy periods when they were not prohibited from doing so (due to perceived threats to Chinese authority or to Chinese people), and that the Chinese simply wanted to control the terms of their trade. [2] They did not want traders setting up colonies in their sovereign territory. [2] According to Brook, the Chinese not going out exploring the world did put them at a technological and linguistic disadvantage as they had a very limited world view and lacked experience of the increasingly cosmopolitan world outside their borders. [2] This wasn't so much of a problem in Vermeer's time but was to become more of an issue as Europe's empires grew in the 18th century and 19th centuries. [2]

<i>Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window is an oil painting by Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer. Completed in approximately 1657–59, the painting is on display at the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. For many years, the attribution of the painting—which features a young Dutch woman reading a letter before an open window—was lost, with first Rembrandt and then Pieter de Hooch being credited for the work before it was properly identified in 1880. After World War II, the painting was briefly in possession of the Soviet Union. Apparently well-preserved, the painting may have been altered after the painter's death.

Stereotype thought that may be adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things

In social psychology, a stereotype is an over-generalized belief about a particular category of people. Stereotypes are generalized because one assumes that the stereotype is true for each individual person in the category. While such generalizations may be useful when making quick decisions, they may be erroneous when applied to particular individuals. Stereotypes encourage prejudice and may arise for a number of reasons.

Sovereignty concept that a state or governing body has the right and power to govern itself without outside interference

Sovereignty is the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies. In political theory, sovereignty is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity.

Indra's net

In the book, the author uses the metaphor of Indra's net: [6]

Indras net

Indra's net is a metaphor used to illustrate the concepts of Śūnyatā (emptiness), pratītyasamutpāda, and interpenetration in Buddhist philosophy.

Writing in The Spectator , Sarah Burton explains that Brook uses this metaphor, and its interconnectedness, "to help understand the multiplicity of causes and effects producing the way we are and the way we were." She adds: "In the same way, the journeys through Brook's picture-portals intersect with each other, at the same time shedding light on each other. [7]


Writing in The Guardian , Kathryn Hughes describes Vermeer's Hat as "an exhilarating book" and "a brilliant attempt to make us understand the reach and breadth of the first global age." [3] She states that "What Brook wants us to understand [...] is that these domains, the local and the transnational, were intimately connected centuries before anyone came up with the world wide web." [3]

Also in The Guardian, Jerry Brotton describes Vermeer's Hat as "the finest book on Vermeer I've read in years." [8] He states that "by deftly unravelling their stories, he gives us a picture of Vermeer unwittingly sitting in at the birth of the modern global world" and concludes that "This is a fabulous book that drags Vermeer away from our complacent Eurocentric assumptions of his insular domesticity." [8]

In the Literary Review , Lisa Jardine describes the book as an "enthralling" "jewel of a study". [9]

In the Washington Post , Michael Dirda writes: "Vermeer's Hat ... provides not only valuable historical insight but also enthralling intellectual entertainment." [10]

In The Independent , TH Barrett states that "[Brook] is too good a scholar to treat Vermeer's paintings as straightforward windows into the past, but he does show us how pictorial sources can open "doors" into "corridors" linking up diverse regions of the globe." [11]

Also in The Independent, speaking of the way the author "teases out" detail from the paintings, Lesley McDowell states that "[he] shows, better than anyone I've read so far, the truly subversive power of detail – especially when it's brought to the fore instead of filling in the background." [12]

Douglas Smith writes in The Seattle Times "In Brook's hands Vermeer's canvases, together with a painting by a second-rate contemporary and an old chipped Delft plate, are just bright lures to catch our attention before he takes us on his rich, suggestive tours of the 17th-century world." [13] He goes on to say: "In recounting these tales of international trade, cultural exchange and foreign encounter, 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." [13]

Peter Conrad, writing in The Observer , is more critical. He is of the opinion that "Brook is so intent on cost and the grim injustice of expropriation that he can seem crassly unresponsive, indifferent to the almost beatific peace of the paintings" [1] and "knows everything about price, but rather less about value." [1]


In 2009, Vermeer's Hat won Brook the Mark Lynton History Prize from Columbia University in New York, worth $10,000 (U.S.). The prize is one of the Lukas Prize Project awards. [14] [15] The book was described as a "bold, original and compulsively readable work of history." [14]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Conrad, Peter (29 June 2008). "A time when every picture told a story". The Observer . Retrieved 2010-01-22.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Roberts, Russ (19 February 2008). "Brook on Vermeer's Hat and the Dawn of Global Trade (audio podcast)". Library of Economics and Liberty: EconTalk. Retrieved 2010-01-22.
  3. 1 2 3 Hughes, Kathryn (2 August 2008). "Where did you get that hat?". The Guardian . Retrieved 2010-01-25.
  4. Clem, Chambers. "Who needs stock exchanges?". mondovisione: Worldwide Exchange Intelligence. Retrieved 2010-01-22.
  5. Ames, Glenn J. (2008). The Globe Encompassed: The Age of European Discovery, 1500-1700. pp. 102–103.
  6. Brook, Timothy (2009). Vermeer's Hat the Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World. London: Profile Books. p.  22. ISBN   1847652549 . Retrieved 2012-11-26.
  7. Burton, Sarah (2 August 2008). "The Net Result". The Spectator . Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
  8. 1 2 Brotton, Jerry (3 August 2008). "Vermeer in the World". The Guardian . Retrieved 2010-01-25.
  9. Jardine, Lisa (July 2008). "The Half-Open Window". Literary Review . Archived from the original on 2009-10-05. Retrieved 2010-01-22.
  10. Dirda, Michael (27 January 2008). "Painting the World: How a hunger for tea and tobacco created global trade". Washington Post . Retrieved 2010-01-22.
  11. Barrett, TH (1 August 2008). "Vermeer's Hat, by Timothy Brook: The fine art of global trade". The Independent . Retrieved 2010-01-22.
  12. McDowell, Lesley (23 August 2009). "Vermeer's Hat, By Timothy Brook". The Independent . Retrieved 2010-01-25.
  13. 1 2 Smith, Douglas (1 February 2008). "The world through the work of a Dutch master". The Seattle Times . Retrieved 2010-01-22.
  14. 1 2 Staff (1 April 2009). "Vancouver writer Timothy Brook wins U.S. nonfiction prize". CBC News . Retrieved 2010-01-24.
  15. Hoffmann, Jackie (29 May 2009). "UBC Professor Wins Prestigious History Prize". Faculty of Arts, University of British Columbia. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 29 January 2010.

Foreign translations

Further study

Other reviews


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Johannes Vermeer 17th-century Dutch painter

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime but evidently was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.

Delftware type of glazed pottery

Delftware or Delft pottery, also known as Delft Blue, is a general term now used for Dutch tin-glazed earthenware, a form of faience. Most of it is blue and white pottery, and the city of Delft in the Netherlands was the major centre of production, but the term covers wares with other colours, and made elsewhere. It is also used for similar pottery that it influenced made in England, but this should be called English delftware to avoid confusion.

Dutch Golden Age Historical period of the Netherlands from 1575 to 1675

The Dutch Golden Age was a period in the history of the Netherlands, roughly spanning the 17th century, in which Dutch trade, science, military, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world. The first section is characterized by the Eighty Years' War, which ended in 1648. The Golden Age continued in peacetime during the Dutch Republic until the end of the century.

Kraak ware Chinese Ming Dynasty imported porcelain in 16th- & 17th-century Europe

Kraak ware or Kraak porcelain is a type of Chinese export porcelain produced mainly in the late Ming Dynasty, in the Wanli reign (1573–1620), but also in the Tianqi (1620-1627) and the Chongzhen (1627-1644). It was among the first Chinese export wares to arrive in Europe in mass quantities, and was frequently featured in Dutch Golden Age paintings of still life subjects with foreign luxuries.

Blue and white pottery porcelain style from China

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<i>The Art of Painting</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The Art of Painting, also known as The Allegory of Painting, or Painter in his Studio, is a 17th-century oil on canvas painting by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. It is owned by the Austrian Republic and is on display in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

<i>The Little Street</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer

The Little Street is a painting by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, executed c. 1657–58. It is exhibited at the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam, and signed, below the window in the lower left-hand corner, "I V MEER".

<i>Girl Interrupted at Her Music</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer

Girl Interrupted at Her Music is a painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. It was painted in the baroque style, probably between the years 1658 and 1659, using oil on canvas. Since 1901 it has been in the Frick Collection in New York City.

Vermeer is a Dutch toponymic surname. It is a contraction of Van der Meer, meaning "from the lake."

<i>A Lady Writing a Letter</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer

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<i>Girl with a Pearl Earring</i> 1665 painting by Johannes Vermeer, in the collection of the Mauritshuis

Girl with a Pearl Earring is an oil painting by Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer, dated c. 1665. Going by various names over the centuries, it became known by its present title towards the end of the 20th century after the large pearl earring worn by the girl portrayed there. The work has been in the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague since 1902 and has been the subject of various literary treatments. In 2006, the Dutch public selected it as the most beautiful painting in the Netherlands.

<i>The Astronomer</i> (Vermeer) painting by Johannes Vermeer

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<i>View of Delft</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer

View of Delft is an oil painting by Johannes Vermeer, painted ca. 1660–1661. The painting of the Dutch artist's hometown is among his most popular, painted at a time when cityscapes were uncommon. It is one of three known paintings of Delft by Vermeer, along with The Little Street and the lost painting House Standing in Delft. The use of pointillism in the work suggests that it postdates The Little Street, and the absence of bells in the tower of the New Church dates it to 1660–1661. Vermeer's View of Delft has been held in the Dutch Royal Cabinet of Paintings at the Mauritshuis in The Hague since its establishment in 1822.

Li Rihua (1565–1635) was a Chinese bureaucrat, artist and art critic from Jiaxing, during the late Ming Dynasty. He wrote an extensive diary, the Weishuixuan riji, from 1609 to 1616, which detailed his many acquisitions as an art collector. The diary is so named because Li had a reputation as a connoisseur of tea, and was particularly skilled at selecting the best water with which to brew it. For a time, he was married to the courtesan Xue Susu, and wrote colophons for several of her paintings.