I read an intriguing book review recently, of a book called Vermeer's hat. The book looks at all the objects (clothes, china, etc.) seen in Vermeer's paintings and explores their contexts and likely origin, illuminating global trade routes and politics in his time. Sounds like a brilliant idea to me.
Since the runaway success of "Girl with a pearl earring" we are of course aware that Vermeer's very slim oeuvre is a perfect laboratory for exploration and imagination. Most of his 30-something paintings appear to have been painted in the same room, which can be basically reconstructed (see: Philip Steadman, Vermeer's Camera).
But stepping outside Vermeer's room and finding out what his chamber pieces tell us about his world, and its already globalised trade, that's genius.
Vermeer's Hat : The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World by Timothy Brook 288pp, Profile, £18.99