Brook’s Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World is a wonderful chance for people to find themselves in a magnificent world of the 17th century where merchants’ activities, globalization, innovations, and discoveries played an important role. The peculiar feature of this book is the author’s ability to discuss the whole epoch by means of eight images of the same author, Johannes Vermeer. The point is that Vermeer was not a very popular Dutch painter of the 17th century. He was an ordinary painter with a couple of works, which were mostly devoted to his native Delft, a city in one of the Netherland’s provinces. Brook (2008) identifies Vermeer as “not a person of sufficient importance to deserve an inscribed gravestone… just a painter, an artisan in one of the fine trades” (p. 3).
To read Brook’s book means to analyze deeply eight works of art, which show the peculiarities of ordinary people’s life during the 17th century, their interests, and dreams. The world was divided into two parts (one of them was under the control of Europe, and another was connected to China), and these paintings depict the essence of the division and attempts, made by people, to bring the world together from political, economic, and cultural point of view.
The first chapter, The View of Delft, reminds a first meeting with the painter. Brooks gives briefly several facts from Vermeer’s life and describes the main principles supported by the 17th century society, for instance, the necessity to create many churches because people “hoped to be buried as close as possible to a holy place” (Brook, 2008, p. 3). The author underlines his desire to compare Delft with some Chinese cities, Shanghai, for example, and prove that European and Chinese cultures have so many differences, which are interesting for an analysis. He introduces global cooling as the main feature of the 17th century and analyzes how Vermeer accepted the changed that were around.
The next part of the book is devoted to Officer and Laughing Girl, the painting that fulfills several functions at the same time. The play of the light used for an officer and a lady underlines the depth of communication between males and females. Then, the painter underlines the importance of head covering and says that a type of hat wore actually shows a person’s social status. And finally, a map behind proves that people paid much attention to the political relations of their country with its neighbors. The main idea of this chapter is to provide the reader with a powerful historical overview and explain the grounds of status competition that was so crucial in the 17th century.
A Dish of Fruits is the following chapter that turns out to be a continuation of the relations between a man and a woman represented in the previous picture. This painting has the goal to help the reader understand that men had certain duties before society, and they could use letters only to talk to their women. Men had to protect their land against the Chinese’s desire to acquire more.
Geography Lessons is the chapter about people’s intentions to know more about the world around, make interesting economic and political propositions, and build new scales by means of which their lives could be improved. The author sets the goal to evaluate deeply the relations between China and Europe and explain their trade relations using Red Hairs and Macanese Foreigners as the main variables in the research. The main idea of this chapter is the necessity to gather and synthesize the information and understand better the world that was entering Europeans lives quickly.
School of Smoking introduces a plate with a number of Chinese people, mortal and immortal, smoking, fighting, and running somewhere. This image helps to understand how Europe saw China, its traditions, intentions, and goals in the 17th century. In this chapter, the role of tobacco in trade relations is considered. Globalization brings a lot of changes to Europe, and Chinese impact remains to be the most crucial one.
Weighing Silver’ main idea is society’s intentions to combine science, religion, and culture. Brook proves that the 17th century was the period, when the necessity to find a balance was crucial. The main idea is to find out the required balance in the relations between Europe and China (the author also focuses on the plate 8 that represents the Emperor Guan, a Chinese War God). The role of silver in trade relations was huge, and the author evaluates its impact on traders from various perspectives.
The last but one chapter touches upon the details of Vermeer’s Card Players painting. It contradicts the majority of his works as it represents a little boy serving his mistress, and it is not the only symbol that deserves attention. The idea of this chapter is to show that the European society was able to create its own rules and decide whether to follow them or not. And the disorder that appeared as a result “was nothing compared to the chaos engulfing the cities of north China…where rebel bands were fighting government armies” (Brook, 2008, p. 189).
The final chapter, Endings: No Man Is an Island, is not about particular Vermeer’s paintings. It is based on the lines from English poet Donne’s prose that reflects the general situation in the world in the 17th century. Metaphors, which are usually used in literature, turned out to be necessary for the society to survive the globalization.
Is the Brook’s book really worth reading? Sure, it is. Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World is a magnificent combination of human past, present and future. The author evaluates the history of the world, uses present experience and knowledge, and gives certain perspectives for the future. There are many sources of information about world’s history, and this particular book differs from other sources due to its ability to combine art and history at the same time. The book is interesting for female and male readers as it touches upon human relations, experiences, worries, and hopes, world’s necessity to be changed and improved, society’s intentions for discoveries and knowledge. In this book, the whole century is described. It is easy to read and comprehend the information given. Human actions are not always easy to understand, and the author provides the reader with an opportunity to make use of these actions of the past and improve the present.
Still, it is necessary to realize that each person has the right to offer his/her own vision of the history, art, etc. Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World is the collection of thoughts of one particular person, Timothy Brook. Brook is the Canadian historian, who studied thoroughly China and its impact on the world history. In his work, he chooses Europe as the main opponent of China in the 17th century. His choice may seem to be too broad as there are only two groups for comparison: Europeans and Those, Who Are not Europeans. He tries to add some brief facts about Chinese culture to make the comparison more fruitful; still, the advantage of Europe is evident.
Many critics admit that Brook provides Europe of the 17th century with a certain credit in regards to other civilizations. He admits that Europe is probably the only country with a powerful potential for trade relations. The world is not ready to accept the effects of globalization, and the Europe is considered to be the main mover of innovations. Still, Brook shows that China is the country that is always ready to protect its traditions and culture. It is the only civilization that is able to accept innovations and pass the process of globalization successfully taking advantages of its cultural preferences.
In general, Brook’s Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World is a unique source of information with a number of elements by means of which the reader can grasp the main ideas of the 17th century Europe. Simple language, clear worlds, interesting examples, and personal analysis, all this makes the books under consideration a valuable collection of the ideas about a certain period in human life. This lesson on the 17th century Europe, its trade relations, and cultural impact is worth attention and recognition and has to be taken by the reader anyway.