Round the world through paintings
In the table titled “Soldier and Lady Girl” painted in 1658 by Johannes Vermeer, the officer wears a hat, broad, tall, with a wide visor, made of leather beaver from Canada Those who have watched the extraordinary first season of the Fargo TV series certainly know the city of Duluth in the state of Minnesota. This city of approximately 280,000 inhabitants, built on the southwestern shore of Lake Sumperor, is described by the actors as an isolated and rugged non-place where life is regulated by the usually bad weather and is inhabited by peaceful, naive, representatives of the American middle class. The Great Lakes region, shared by the United States with Canada, whose Lake Superior is the westernmost end, was explored by Europeans at the end of the 16th and early 17th centuries when British and French sought the famous “Northwest Passage “Which would connect the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean. The search, of course, as we know today, proved futile, but this tough place inhabited by hostile Indian tribes offered Europeans a precious asset: the fur of the beaver. Contrary to what we imagined today, however, the explorers did not chase the flesh-like rodent for its outer gloss, which was an outrageous idea for our own measures. What was of interest to them and which created a real commercial and social frenzy in the Old Epirus was the layer of skin beneath the fur that was the raw material for the production of felt – from which the hats were then made. One such hat, wide, tall, with a wide gauze and ribbon, the last word of the men’s fashion of the time, is also wearing the soldier on the table, entitled Soldier and Lady Girl , painted in 1658 by Johannes Vermeer. The story of this extraordinary object, social symbol and aesthetic product tells us, among other things, in his book The Vermeer Hat, recently published by Papadopoulos the sonologist and professor at Oxford University Timothy Brooke. And this story is really exciting because the writer manages to tell the story of Canada’s discovery, talk about the history of flirting in Western Europe, comment on the evolution of fashion and hygiene at Delft’s of the 17th century (it is indicative, for example, that European governments controlled the purchase of hats – used or new – because of the fear of diseases transmitted by lice) and to ask a series of questions most likely of all, how could it be possible in 1632 that a French “commercial agent”, whose mission was to enter the Canadian hinterland, would go to the festivals prepared by the Guinea-Bissau Indians on Lake Superior, very close to today’s Duluth, wearing a Chinese kimono? The answer is simple: as Brooke explains, the move to the west was not exclusively for the fur trade but also, if not, the discovery of an alternative road to China. Indeed, for the geographer, cartographer, explorer and founder of today’s Quebec Samuel Shamlen and the “sales representative” Jean Nicolay, the road to China did not pass the American continent but pass through it. Thus Nicole, knowing the protocol and having predicted his arrival at the Beijing imperial palace, brought with him to today’s Canada a traditional kimono, which had arrived in Paris probably via a Jesuit missionary active in the East.
A history of the world So what does this new material and intellectual reality correspond to? In a word: globalization or, rather, the beginnings of globalization, as stated in the book’s subtitle. Vermeer ‘s hat is a 17th-century cultural history of this unique and largely unknown period in which the development of commercial networks and advances in science created conditions of unprecedented mobility and wealth accumulation. Timothy Brook, however, has not written a conventional story. A profound scholar of Chinese culture and an excellent storyteller, he builds an eccentric narrative by running five paintings by a Dutch teacher not as an art historian but as a detective who observes a detail, an object or a person to find points of entry into a multifaceted world of exchanges and antagonisms between West and East. It is this original look at the things that allow it to expose the advent of the arrival of Chinese porcelain in Europe as a history of navigation and (European and Chinese) taste; or to talk about the history of tobacco to map the trade routes linked Latin America to Europe and Asia, while watching the development of a custom that still lays down rules of national, class, social and gendered behavior; or, finally, to follow the footsteps of a French onou Scot, who in the early years of his maturity acquired Dutch name to eventually die of old age as a Korean official. The material things Change the way we see History The beginning and the focus of the tour that unfolds on the pages of this glamorous book is the city of Delft, the birthplace of Vermeer (which he never left) and one of the seats of the famous Dutch Society of East Indies – the world’s first large public limited company. “Delft was not alone,” writes Brooke, “it was in a world that spread across the globe.” The kaleidoscopic glance looks like this be coordinated with the look of Vermeer himself, who in the flagship View of Delft included, no accident, and the roofs of the Annex to the East India Company. This book begins with a city whose docks, as Rene De Carter wrote, were “a list of probabilities”, a transmitter and receiver at the same time of the new 17th century commercial spirit. An example: if the officer’s hat is made of Canadian fur, the coins that the girl counts in front of her window on another table have been mined in Peru and are likely to be used to buy the Chinese porcelain we meet in many of the interior of Vermeer. New method of interpretation By addressing social scientists and scholarly readers, the writer actually suggests a radical change in the way we see history and art: “if we look at the things depicted in the paintings, we will find ourselves behind doors that connect our confused and tricky present with a past anything but simple, “notes, without any oversimplification. Bringing, in other words, the focus of his reflection on the image as an object, Brooke does not only invent a historical source but also a new method of its interpretation. Thus, avoiding the straight line of historical reasoning, this intelligent historian prefers to be lost in the meanders of the history of material things in order to reach the history of the people from another street, more inconvenient perhaps but also more challenging. The result is charming as the book, in its flowing Greek translation, turns itself into a table and mirror of another era – perhaps not so distant from ours.