Vermeer’s Hat Summary and Study Guide

Timothy Brook

Vermeer’s Hat

  • 36-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 8 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis.
  • Written by a literary scholar with a Master's degree in English Literature
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Vermeer’s Hat Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 36-page guide for “Vermeer’s Hat” by Timothy Brook includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 8 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 24 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Effects of Transculturation and The Beginnings of Globalization.

Plot Summary

Vermeer’s Hat by Timothy Brook, subtitled: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World, is a popular piece and a fascinating artistic endeavor, where the author, a historian and professor, uses the aesthetic beauty and subjects of paintings by Johannes Vermeer, to illustrate his own deductions on globalization in the 1600s. Dutch 17th century artist, Johannes Vermeer’s work is more than just inspiration – Brook actually references six of Vermeer’s art pieces, and uses them as doors that open to a whole sphere of discussion about world trade and its origins.

Timothy Brook discusses large subjects like global economy or international exports while using art, and as it seems the paintings were just starting off points to certain arguments and discussions that eventually link together. For instance, he begins with Vermeer’s painting of a landscape: View of Delft. He studies the socioeconomic placement of specific structures that are visible in the painting, like the homes and the ports, and their significance in global trade. He goes on further by describing the Dutch East India Company and how it is known to be the world’s most primary multinational corporation, and how it acted more like a regional government, with so much power that all its competitors were unable to trade on their own and had to become part of this company. It also apparently has the ability to wage wars, coin money and hold significant authority over international trade between the Netherlands and other large Asian trade countries like China.

The use of East Asia as a wrap up point for the previous painting brings light to the next work of art that Brook discusses, and it is Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, which portrays in the foreground a picturesque traditional white and blue Chinese plate, and being an expert in Chinese culture (Brook is a professor of Chinese studies), he uses this to delve deeper into trade with China, specifically, trade in China.

His points explore the vast differences between classes, and how the Chinese dish was a symbol of high class, but as it became more available, the price went down and it began to fill the homes of less wealthy families across Chinese cities. He also discusses the significance of smoking – how only the elite in China would commonly smoke, whereas in Europe, smoking for the working class was a lot more conventional. He also hails China on their instinct in making international trade their own, by dictating the details of it themselves, however Brook also notes that this is because the Chinese are afraid of traders “setting up colonies in their sovereign territories,” and that by keeping the terms of their trade simplistic and abrupt, they were limiting themselves from a large international immersion, keeping their country immune from learning new cultures, new languages, and developing new products that the rest of the world was already involved in.

Another painting that Brook discusses in great detail is the painting that is on the book cover: Officer and Laughing Girl. Brook uses this painting to initially describe trade between Northern America and Europe, and he is brought to this point by large hat that is worn in the painting – this also may be the hat that is in the title. He says that the hat may or may have not belonged to Vermeer, but what is even more important is what the material of the hat was, where it came from, and what were the consequences of its creation, and who was affected by said creation.

The hat was made of felt, specifically beaver fur, which brought him to North American French traders, and how they found their trade route to China, and how helpful the sale of beaver fur was to their operation, since not only was it a great product to export, but it helped them keep the commissioning of trade routes afloat with the money they made selling them. Brook continues with North American trade at this point, giving note to other commodities like sugar, tobacco and heavy metals. He also discusses the sale and trade of slaves from Africa and how it influenced the economy.

The rest of the book discusses major aspects of globalization, including ship building, assembling routes, navigation and the rise of technology, making him state that modernity was never a recent concept, but in fact it was created in the seventeenth century with the rise of international trade and multinational economy.

The chapters of Vermeer’s Hat are said to go well as stand-alone pieces, making this read like less of a novel, and more of a book of musings that link together through art and time. A relatively new book, published in 2007, it received great reviews, some calling it exhilarating and enthralling. Brook is able to take the subject of art and create compelling stories about history and world trade, however one only hopes that maybe some people out there will appreciate the art for what it was meant to do: be appreciated as art.

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