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Vermeer's Hat: The seventeenth century and the dawn of the global world [Paperback]

Timothy Brook
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
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Book Description

16 July 2009

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. The officer's dashing 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 porcelain so often shown in Dutch paintings of this time.

Vermeer's haunting images hint at the stories 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.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books; Reprint edition (16 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846681200
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846681202
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 63,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Spell-binding ... as a guide to the world behind the pictures Vermeer's Hat is mind-expanding (John Carey Sunday Times)

A brilliant attempt to make us understand the reach and breadth of the first global age (Kathryn Hughes Guardian)

Brook takes you into the paintings in a way that can be spookily intimate (William Leith Evening Standard 2009-07-16)

Brook is a gifted storyteller... spellbinding... a treasure trove of astonishing pleasures (The Lady 2009-07-21)

How brilliantly Brook connects all with all (Guardian 2009-07-25)

Revelatory (Sunday Business Post 2009-07-19)

Illuminating footnotes to Vermeer's miracles on canvas (Independent 2009-08-07)

An erudite, surprising book that finds traces of swashbuckling where you'd least expect (Thomas Marks Daily Telegraph 2009-08-15)

Truly mesmerising. In this accessible but authoritative study, he... shows better than anyone I've read so far, the truly subversive power of detail (Lesley McDowell Independent on Sunday 2009-08-23)

Review

`How brilliantly Brook connects all with all' Guardian

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very original take on history 20 Nov 2009
By Didier TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I adore history books on virtually any period in (mostly) European history, and this was no exception. Indeed, I found Brook's point of view extremely refreshing. However engaging or well-written other history books may be, they tend to use the same approach: a chronological or thematic treatment of a certain period or nation. In the end, 'Vermeer's hat' will also give you exactly that: an overview of the forces at work in the seventeenth century when Europeans, especially the Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese, began criscrossing the oceans and establishing footholds in the remotest corners of the earth. The refreshing thing however is that Brook traces these event starting from objects in 5 paintings by Johannes Vermeer (plus 2 others by other Dutch painters and an earthenware plate).

And so, using these objects (not only the hat from the book's title, but also silver coins, a porcelain dish, ...) as doors into the seventeenth century, he tells the fascinating story of 'the dawn of the global world', when increasingly faraway places and people all over the world were connecting, slowly but surely creating an ever-expanding web of links and relations. He devotes equal attention to the larger forces at work here as to some of the individuals risking life and limb in this pursuit: traders, bankers, sailors, soldiers, priests, ...

In itself this is fascinating stuff, but add to that the engaging style and language and the net result is a feast for all lovers of history books. You'll never look at a painting in the same way again!
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking 24 July 2008
Format:Hardcover
Simply, a beautiful and breathtaking book. Full of marvels and curiousities, each chapter opens out to show the wider maps and ideas we thought we knew about...small details from the paintings are peered closely at, and behind them the seventeenth-century world of travel and trade, narrated through human encounters and stories. He writes wonderfully well and with such clarity about often complex issues, effortlessly moving the focus and scene from place to place: so there's a lovely rhythm about the book as he paces the (frequent) surprises subtly and narrates them with a drole and deceptively easy style. I started to read the other day and was still sat there seven hours later, transfixed by it, slowing up the pace of reading, not wanting it to end.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous 21 April 2009
By D. P. Mankin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
This is a wonderfully well written text that uses items featured in Vermeer's paintings to provide a highly informative and fascinating account of trade and exploration in the 17th Century (the Dutch Golden Age as it is often referred to). Unlike a couple of the other reviewers I felt it was worth every penny. The author is clearly extremely knowledgeable about the period and has a confident writing style. He provides some lucidly written accounts that focus on specific individuals and events. This approach works very well and provides you with some fascinating insights. If you are interested in this period then I strongly recommend this text to you.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An absorbing book which is not about Vermeer! 28 July 2011
By Eugene Onegin TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As my title sugests, the first thing any potential purchaser needs to know about this book is that it is not really about the artist or his work at all. What Brook offers here is a meditation on the beginnings of globalization in the seventeenth century fired by trade. Details from Vermeer's paintings such as a beaver hat, a porcelain dish or pieces of silver are used as starting points for telling the story of how Dutchmen set out to develop trade with the world from Canada to China. The latter country receives particular attention as Brook is a China specialist and indeed he writes elegantly and perceptively throughout. The central argument presented is that it was in Vermeer's time that people started to look and think beyond their own country and continent and towards some kind of world view motivated not by altruism, but a desire to make money.Brook cleverly chooses the lives of individual adventurers to tell his stories and they hold the attention effectively leading to some thought-provoking revelations not least of which is the obsession with China its wealth and potential power-some things clearly do not change. An original book, this one, which will appeal to historians more than art lovers, but from which any informed reader will derive pleasure.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A New Perspective 25 July 2008
Format:Hardcover
This book is an interesting new perspective in Vermeer studies, looking at the objects in his paintings from the point of view of the expanding trade networks of the 17th century. It is engagingly written and he wears his scholarship lightly.

I was disappointed the author did not investigate Vermeer's famous blue colour (anachronistically called "cobalt blue" in the book), since the ultramarine would itself have come from a complex trade network, and how it came to Delft would itself have made quite a story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I read this book in preparation for a a visit to Delft (Vermeer's birthplace) in an effort to understand his work a little better, but ended up enjoying it for the truly fascinating information it contains on the setting up of trade (and culture) routes in the seventeenth century. Hugely interesting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Globalization and its roots 12 Feb 2012
Format:Paperback
Vermeer's Hat by Timothy Brook is not really about Vermeer, or hats, or art for that matter. It's a book about globalization sixteenth century-style. Using elements from a few of the Dutchman's paintings - plus some others from the period - the author identifies evidence of global trade, of the economic history of a century that saw the opening up of commerce on a scale the world had previously not known. And unlike the more academic studies of Wallerstein or Gunder Frank, Timothy Brook's book is accessible even to the casual reader. Its approach is highly original; its style is lucid and clear; its scholarship is nothing less than phenomenal.

Early on in the text the author reminds us of the fundamental difference between the passing image and the narrative of art. `Paintings are not "taken", like photographs;' Timothy Brook writes, `they are "made", carefully and deliberately and not to show an objective reality so much as to present a particular scenario.' Objects in a painting are there for a reason. They are part of a narrative or comment that the artist chooses to relate, perhaps consciously. Our tasks as observers are partly to interpret as well as respond, as well as merely see. And make no mistake, the process is intellectual, not just aesthetic. With an admirable eye for detail, Timothy Brook thus analyses seventeenth century paintings for evidence of international trade. But this is only a starting point for a truly global tour.

A beaver hat, for instance, leads him to relate the story of how French expeditions into Canada sought pelts to feed demand for high fashion in Europe. It was the beaver's fortune - or perhaps misfortune - to be born with a fur that, when transformed into felt, remained waterproof, and hence kept its shape in the rain.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant insight to Veremeeer's wotld
A mass of detail but so well presented it becomes endlessly fascinating. Thoroughly recommended for students of history and art history.
Published 5 months ago by Mrs. Joanna P. Harrison
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent - even on Kindle
The Kindle edition does now have the images! Although best read in hard copy, I greatly enjoyed reading this book on Kindle, as soon as I had worked out how to access the pictures... Read more
Published 8 months ago by michele
3.0 out of 5 stars Vermeer's Hat
Difficult to rate because the print is so small I couldn't read it. Would have been better if Amazon had declared that. Read more
Published 9 months ago by AudreyKM
3.0 out of 5 stars terrible illustrations
If you are going to publish a book about details in paintings you should make sure that the illustrations are good. Read more
Published 9 months ago by J. Claire Wood
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Off Beat Tour through History
ALthough a bit pedantic at times, the book manages to gather steam ( and interest) as it naviagates the many diverse currents of history that are all stimulated by some of... Read more
Published 11 months ago by KH
4.0 out of 5 stars Succinct and interesting
A clever way of imparting knowledge about Vermeer's life and period in history. Definitely a good read with good reproduction of pictures.
Published 11 months ago by florrie
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book let down by annoying flaws
'Vermeer's Hat' came to me recommended by someone who knows my taste, and the sub-Sieboldian style (see The Rings Of Saturn etc) in the opening pages was intriguing. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Peasant
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting slant on history
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. Read more
Published 13 months ago by James Brydon
5.0 out of 5 stars Vermeer
What a delightful book. Greatly helped me in my presentation to the Art History group on the Public and Private in the age of Vermeer.
Published 13 months ago by Barbara Atkin
3.0 out of 5 stars Sadly no rabbit
The idea of using paintings mainly by Vermeer as a cue to explore aspects of the development of trade in the seventeenth century and "the dawn of the global world" is an... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Antenna
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