Lisa Jardine

The Half-Open Window

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

By

Profile Books 232pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

On the cover of Timothy Brook’s enthralling new book is a well-known painting by Jan Vermeer of a laughing young woman in yellow, seated at a table and bathed in sunlight which floods through a half-open window. Her hands cup a crystal glass, and she is flirting with a dashing officer in a red coat seated opposite her. He has his back towards us, his right arm akimbo, but the composition is dominated by the outsized, black beaver hat he wears, fashionably trimmed with ribbon. This hat, and the diamond-paned window against which it is framed, set the stage for Vermeer’s Hat. The minutely observed and meticulously executed details in Vermeer’s paintings, Brook suggests, offer us metaphorical ‘doors’ – apertures opening up, like that half-open window, towards a wider world. Such doors, proposes Brook, take us directly into the rapidly expanding seventeenth-century world of global exploration and trade. Objects interjected into Vermeer’s compositions draw the reader’s eye and mind towards vistas beyond the sitters in their quintessentially Dutch surroundings. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • He weeps by the side of the ocean, He weeps on the top of the hill; He purchases pancakes and lotion, And chocolate… ,
    • 'Half-way through The Conquest of Water I felt as if I had been subjected to the literary equivalent of excessive c… ,
    • 'Volume five, then, but still no end in sight. Sandbrook is clearly enjoying himself so much he can’t bear the seri… ,
    • 'By the end of the book something so weighty, stylish and impressive has been built up that one feels far nearer to… ,
    • 'Her ensuing psychotic episode is described so convincingly ... that the reader will wonder if Dobrakovová did not… ,
    • 'The perspectives complement and contest one another, amounting to a glorious, atmospheric set of ventriloquisms.'… ,
    • RT : I reviewed The Testaments for . I will not be taking any questions at this time. ,