Monday, December 03, 2012

Vermeer's China

Vermeer's Hat: The seventeenth century and the dawn of the global world by Timothy Brook

I raved about this book a few years ago after reading just a review of it - I was so jealous of the idea.

Years later, after laying hands on an actual copy and actually reading it, I'm not quite as excited any more (it may be a sign that I forgot to post the review here after I wrote it in May and posted it on amazon).

The author uses the compact and widely known oeuvre of Vermeer and, particularly, the objects pictured in it as a window into the 17th century world. (Very fittingly, as windows (or more likely, the same window) often feature in these pictures.) There is some great storytelling and intriguing connections between Old Europe, the New World, and China, which in this day and age we are very prone to interpret as the "dawn of globalisation."

I was a little disappointed, however, to find that Brook didn't stick with Vermeer - of the eight works he discusses, only five are Vermeer paintings. As an expert in Chinese history, the author is ultimately more interested in the global trade routes in the 17th century than in Vermeer, and he only uses the painter as a tool to popularise his academic discipline. Of course he has every right to do so, but I'd still be interested in a book that tries to shed light on the story of every object of every single Vermeer painting. There aren't that many, so it should be possible.

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