Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World

free essayNowadays it is impossible to imagine any country existing in complete isolation from other states. We live in the world where globalization is the way of life: we eat products from other countries, watch foreign films, listen to foreign music, wear foreign clothes, and use technological devices produced abroad and take all that for granted. However, the world was not like this all the time. The book entitled “Vermeer’s Hat” returns the readers to the seventeenth century and via examining the paintings by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer interprets the rise of cross-cultural communication processes and its impact on the society. Timothy Brook, the author of the book, argues that the geographical openings, intensification of trade, and travelling that took place in 17th century marked the beginning of mutual penetration of different cultures and beliefs, goods, and knowledge known as globalization.

The chapter entitled “The Dish of Fruit” refers to the obsession with porcelain that reached Europe with the merchants’ ships from China. The author supports his central arguments by referring to these objects of luxury. It focuses on the analysis of the picture of the girl reading a letter, however, central attention is given to the porcelain dish in the foreground. Porcelain was one of the first objects of trade that have soon settled in the homes of Europeans. As it was imported it was rather expensive and only the representatives of higher classes could afford serving food in blue-and-white china (Brook 62). The porcelain exemplifies the impact of foreign goods on the local culture and society. First of all, the presence of this luxurious pottery became the mark of wealth of a family. Secondly, in the 17th century all people were that much obsessed with it that started to produce tones of dishes and vessels that imitated the style of Chinese porcelain. It exemplifies the phenomenon of transculturation that is actively used within a book. The trade and exchange of goods have changed the nature of European art and culture and imbued it with Eastern elements and motives.

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The book’s main weakness is that it avoids one of the major aspects of globalization – the religion. Alongside the cultural and economic exchange, the processes of religious penetration have started. Europe had become aware of Eastern beliefs and it had changed the outlook of many people. However, Brook does not pay attention to that.

The author defines the emergence of globalization by means of Vermeer’s paintings. He believes that each painting has hidden messages and hints that can help to understand the specific time: people should “regard paintings as windows opening directly onto another time and place (Brook 8). The writer employs descriptive manner of storytelling and analyses the seven artistic works produced by Vermeer. The narration is often interrupted with author’s digressions that send readers back in time or to the other continents. Brook selects specific character, place or object and reflects upon it. Then, the narration, similar to the people’s thinking process, is interrupted and focuses on something else. Moreover, he does not sound as a person who is forcibly trying to impose his ideas. Brook presents the facts and draws attention to the details depicted on paintings. The writer claims that in order to understand the emergence of globalization it is necessary “to duck past the surface and look hard at the objects as signs of the time and place in which the painting was made” (9). He calls the reader to look for hidden signs and decode them in own way. It makes the story look like a puzzle that needs to be completed in reader’s minds.

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Timothy Brook considers the seventeenth century “the dawn of the global world” and centers on this idea his central arguments. The first reason given in the book is about the intensification of travelling. People had desire to discover another lands: driven either by passion, ambitions, desire of knowledge or enrichment they left their homes and crossed lands and oceans chasing for their dreams. Brook refers to that inner passion that inflamed inside people: “The commanding passion of the seventeenth century was … to reduce that once unbridgeable distance through travel, contact, and new knowledge; to pawn one’s place of birth for the world of one’s desire. This was the fire within seventeenth-century souls.” (25). Moreover, people got used to change places and were not that much bounded to the lands of their ancestors as they used to be: “People were now regularly arriving from elsewhere and departing for elsewhere, and as they were carrying things with them which meant that things were ending up in places other than where they were made, and were being seen in these new locations for the first time” (Brook 8). Another fact that supports Brook’s belief is that the 17th century was marked with the rapid growth of population. The author writes that few centuries before people around the world were suffering from climate changes that influenced the harvests and resulted in numerous diseases including the plague. However, “Humankind had already broken the limit of half a billion before the seventeenth century began. We were well past six hundred million by the time it ended” (Brook 14). The growth of population and stability in size of Earth area resulted in more frequent encounters between people.

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Furthermore, the book pays great attention to the state of China and its role in globalization. It refers to the trip of Marco Polo and depicts this country as extremely powerful and wealthy. Suchlike idea made people think that if they get in touch with this state they may also get big fortune (Brook 19). That is why, active trade between Europe and China has been established in short time. China was the country that having met the foreign travelers, it was really concerned about the consequences of the intercultural communication. Chinese people were afraid that by adopting something from other states they may lose own culture and identity. Hence, Europeans did not have that great impact on Chinese as Chinese had on Europeans. China imported some goods but they did not provoke any cultural changes.

Modern processes of globalization are quite similar to those observed in the 17th century. We are still engaged in international trade processes, people are actively traveling around the world and use the things originating from different countries. However, it differs in the scale and nature of intercultural communication. The phenomenon of international organizations is the most apparent difference between the 17th century global communication and the one existing nowadays.

Currently, people are using many things that originally appeared in one country and thanks to intercultural communication were adopted by others. However, we are not that much dependent on the import as the world was centuries ago. Modern technologies allow each country to create own manufactures to make the foreign goods in the country. People even learned to grow some fruits and vegetables that were originally imported from abroad. In this sense, modern globalization differs from the 17th century: there is no need to export the complete products, we get the idea and imitate it. For example, such things as cowboy leather boots and hats originally appeared in the USA but nowadays are worn all over the globe.

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To conclude, according to the book “Vermeer’s Hat” intercultural relationships that took place in the 17th century marked the beginning of new social phenomenon known as globalization. It appeared due to the geographical discoveries, active travelling, and intensification of trade. People got acquainted with different cultures and traditions. Globalization had influenced all aspects of human life but its major impact was related to the phenomenon of transculturation. People started employing objects not typical of their cultural background and it changed the culture of every country. Globalization is still changing the world, however, today it manifests itself in greater variety of forms.