Vermeer's Hat, By Timothy Brook

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The Independent Culture

In this engaging work, an Oxford professor of Chinese utilises Vermeer's luminous realism to explore the global economy of the 17th century. The hat in "Officer and Laughing Girl" takes us to Canada.

Samuel Champlain was seeking the North West Passage but found beaver pelts, which bind into pliable, waterproof felt when boiled with poisonous mercury glue (hence mad hatters).

The dish of fruit in "Young Woman Reading a Letter" inspires a chapter on Chinese porcelain. One ship carried 126,391 pieces. The scales in "Woman Holding A Balance" introduce the silver trade: illuminating footnotes to Vermeer's miracles on canvas.