This paper is a reflection of the pre-Columbian and post Columbian global exchange in different parts of the world. Many historians have explored Vermeer art paintings but this paper focuses on Timothy Brooks’ explanation of the art paintings of the seventeenth century by Vermeer. The paintings depict different material culture of different societies during this period.
Various objects shown in the paintings reflect a social cultural interaction. The paper proceeds to evaluate some trade commodities and concludes by examining the long lasting impacts on various societies.
Vermeer Hat, the Dawn of Global World in the Seventeenth Century is a book that seeks to illustrate the cultural contacts of different parts of the world during the advent of global exchange brought about by the establishment of trade links. In this book, Timothy Brooks makes reverence to the art paintings by Vermeer, so as to depict the Dutch dominance on global commerce during this period.
The territories herein referred to, were the overseas colonies of the modern day Netherlands. In her acquisition of territories, the Dutch followed the Portugal and Spain steps of spreading their dominant material cultures through various means (Brook 28). The Dutch opted to use the military expeditions. She had an existing strong naval power that helped acquire more colonies and spread her influence further.
The Dutch dominance of global trade exchange led to the emergence of the Golden Ages during the seventh century (Brook 45). The material culture flourished in different regions of the world as depicted by the paintings. However, during the revolutionary wars the Dutch lost many of her overseas colonies to the British.
The Dutch traders were organized and prated as limited companies during the trade in the founded New America. They used ships to sail through to the found land after its discovery, by Christopher Columbus. During the Columbian era, European powers sailed to American fleets. The most dominant European power in trade was the Dutch. This was because the country was able to establish naval basis to facilitate trade. During this time, the economy of Netherlands was undergoing agricultural innovations and had to seek land and source on the world market. This led to its establishment in the Caribbean and the South American.
Trade Items Depicted in Vermeer’s paintings
Various trade items were involved in the commercial exchanges in various parts of the globe during the 17th century. From the paintings, one can be observe that such items included gold, silver, slaves, sugar, tobacco, clothing, ivory, and animals. In the book of Timothy Brook, six greatest paintings of Vermeer Hat have demonstrated the root of world trade. For the purpose intended in this paper, two paintings should be examined. These are Officer and Laughing Girl (ca.1655-1660) and A Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window.
Officer and Laughing girl
This painting is an illustration of the interest people had in discovering the world, from the walls, maps of the world that are shown hanging on the walls. These maps show that there was patriotic pride that mostly went along with the emergence of Netherlands out of the Spanish occupation. It is clear from the paintings that trade existed between Europe and North America, which was present at a large scale. According to Brook; there were commodities, such as those made of beaver and fur that has origins in North America. The hat the officer is wearing was most fashionable in Europe during this period. The French controlled the exchange of goods during this period before the North West passage. They were also working to find a trade route to China. Proceeds from beaver fur played a significant part to provide funds to cover the cost required for these undertakings.
From these paintings, the world was being discovered, and Vermeer compressed the world in to a small Dutch room where the officer and the laughing girl were talking. The windows are open so that it is easy to see the outside world, just the same way the globe was being discovered and becoming evident during this period.
The most valuable commodity of trade for the North American was the fur hat. This found its way to Netherlands through the established trade links (Brook 56). The indigenous American people were responsible for rearing animals that produced the fur. Even in the pre- Columbian era, trade between the Europeans and the Indians existed. As Vermeer has demonstrated in the paintings, the fur hats were fashionable, and they were worn by officers. The trade in fur attracted the French, the British, the Spanish and even the Russians, thus, making it an indispensable venture for the North America natives. They made it their primary source of income. Fur was used as trimming and adornment.
The aboriginal people, who were anglers, were exposed to the European explorers and traders, who were in demand of the fur, in order to facilitate trade activities. They exchanged it for weapons. Beaver robes and beaver pelts were used to provide warmth to the anglers who went long and cold voyages across the Atlantic. These beaver courts attracted Europeans. The fur trade grew from a transitional costal tare between the anglers and the Europeans to a permanent trade that was extended to the interior. The Iroquoian speaking people found around Todaussac and Huron became the intermediaries in the trade.
There were many effects from the fur trade out of the interaction between different people. Hunting was intensified to get the fur. Various groups of the indigenous people competed for animals, leading to a lot of rivalry. Raids were also common in these populations as they became attracted to this lucrative business. Warfare resulted in bloodsheds where many lives were lost. For instance, there was a destructive raid at Saint Lawrence River Valley, with many lives were being lost in a bloody killing. Through the fur trade, firearms and other weapons were easily accessible as they were exchanged for fur (Brook 50). Another impact of the growth of this lucrative business was heavy competition for the fur –bearing lands by European powers. They competed to establish their colonies there to reap from the existing trade. Violence warfare continued and led to what became known as “morning wars.”
The fur trade led to the spread of most infectious diseases. They heavily affected the native populations almost to decimate them. The French and the British traders spread the diseases in places such as Huron. The lucrative fur trade led to more rivalry of European powers as each was determined to expand its control. Imperialism culminated into increased warfare with heavy casualties. For instance, the Seven Year War in Europe traces its origin to this trade. The French control of the trade was sometimes excessive. When the authorities came across unlicensed fur traders they had to confiscate the fur in tracing the conflict. French and other European powers funded shipping companies that went to explore the fur producing regions for instance, the Hudson’s Bay. Chattering companies emerged such as the Hudson’s Bay Company of 1670. They participated in the fur trade and other commodities even during succeeding centuries. Immigration and emigration occurred. Some people fled the violence-hit region to seek refuge in safer places such as Lake Michigan. Through this trade, the material culture of different regions was exchanged. The Native Americans learnt more about European wars when they assumed more the roles of intermediaries. Military aggression intensified, and diplomatic negotiations were instituted. European powers competed for the control of the trade (Brook 65).
Another impact of the trade in fur was smuggling of various goods in the Americas and European countries. Fur was smuggled mostly to English markets where the trades intended to evade the French control of the trade. In order for the trade to thrive, water routes were established. These were intended to get more trade items from the Americans, slaves from Africa and to market European goods in other parts of the world. This attracted large merchant companies who heavily invested in the trade to pursue their economic ambitions.
The popular culture became an essential aspect of the fur trade. It attracted book writers, film actors, musicians and painters such as Vermeer Hat. They illustrated the role played by various powers, men, women and other segments. Women were depicted as an important component that prolonged the trade through their marriage to European traders.
One of the features of this trade was the monopoly by some traders permitted by 6the French authority. The currency introduced brought people into contact as they sold and bought the fur. Bureaucratic monopolies were the most dominant in the trade. It must be remembered that the natives who produced the fur did not process it but the European companies were responsible for refining it in to European wares (Brook 40). For instance, it was made to iron-axe heads, clothes and other beaver pelts. The proceeds from the trade improved the living standards of the indigenous people.
Another commodity that is found in Vermeer - a Dutch baroque painter - was the red draperies. These red curtains are to be founding most of his paintings. In his painting entitled A Girl Reading a Letter at an open Window, this commodity has been widely used. In this painting, in particular, there are two other commodities used. They include porcelain bowls where some fruits are placed; letters; chairs and walls. Vermeer being a Netherland citizen himself, was inspired, like any other painter in the streets, by the environment surrounding them. Physical items provided an inspiration to these painters. One thing is abundantly certain: these items were not simply selected for granted by these painters (Brook 69).
The third painting, just as stated before, did use a red drapery in conveying its message. It was done between 1657 and 1659. One may be compelled to ask questions at this point in the description of this great work of Vermeer. How did this commodity enter Netherlands? Who were the producers? Who were the consumers of this product? Did they have any cultural, religious and historical meaning? It is particularly true that these concerns can be attempted to getting replies.
Draperies in the Netherlands have an unusually long history. Most of this history is religiously inclined. The meaning that was derived by the use of this item was at some levels treated as a mystery. Talking of religion in the Netherlands, one needs to be a bit specific in description. Here, religion does not mean any organized group of fanatics worshipping. Religion here means the Catholic Church. The domination of the catholic church during this period was so powerful that the whole country looked upon the church for guidance in virtually all spheres of life; academics; spiritual matters; science and technology; agriculture; research and the list is, of course, endless. Now one ought to have to note the ritualistic and the symbolic nature of the Catholic Church. Its undertakings are most of the time in possession of a much-coded message, which is mostly treated as mystery. Vermeer and other painters knew this fact. This was reflected in their writings. Red color, in the Catholic Church, is a liturgical color that signifies martyrdom. It is used in the Holy mass during the commemorations of those staunch Catholics who in a way were murdered for their own faith.
It has not been remarkably clear from where the draperies found their entry in Netherlands. However, it is thought that they can be associated with the ancient Rome with its theodicy. Another factor is the fact of being near the seat of the heart of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, one thing is highly certain: the church in the Netherlands was a significant consumer of this commodity. By the time Vermeer was dying in 1652, most Dutch people had started losing interest in the Catholic Church (Brook 60). Most of them had started favoring Protestantism in place of catholicity. This meant that the reverence that had been credited to these red draperies had started to lose its touch. In fact, Vermeer in this painting last held the uses of the red draperies dear.
Curtains were particularly used by the baroque painters to represent the spectators’ space. This was, in addition to the religious taste, associated with these draperies. In religious terms, the draperies helped to produce the effect of mystery and surprise. Artistically, the draperies, in particular, helped in achieving the illusionistic ends of those art works.
Something compelling is how the use of these commodities articulates in volumes about the people and the communities that find these items being of value. A lot merits discussion concerning the gender, the race, the religion, the social, the cultural and the ideology of those people. These commodities were used in different contexts conveying different messages. One of the commonly used contexts is to express emotional aspect of the Dutch people. This has been widely used by Vermeer in his paintings, in particular, where the delicate theme of gender is exceedingly common. One cannot fail to mention about the gender roles, including the gender parity, the gender discrimination, and other aspects meriting debate, when talking of gender. In A girl reading a letter at an open window, Vermeer depicts a young girl reading a letter in front of an open window. A red drapery is hanging at the right foreground of the painting. It is not abundantly clear what content of the letter was. However, some critics have associated it with love. This is from the fact that an earlier version of the painting by Vermeer himself had already featured cupid - a goddess of love.
The young girl looks outside, which portrays her longing to experience the external world, which remains anonymous to her, yet she can almost feel the ugliness of its absence. This clearly demonstrates the psychological turmoil that young people undergo when daring to come into terms with the inevitable physical and emotional developments. It becomes too complex to girls, in particular, when this happens in an environment that does not recognize her as worth being treated as a boy. Netherlands had been known for despised attitude towards women, during the historical period when Vermeer lived. Is this girl not sending a message? A message is that she is a human, too, being with emotions which need to be addressed just like those of men. Is it truly fair for one to be denied the channels to express oneself freely without fear of contradiction.
These items tell much about the gender issues. Moreover, these items are used as a reminder of different historical moments. They represent various travails, as well as the good moments that a certain people experienced in the history of coming to terms with the prevailing ideology, at a certain history period. Netherlands has been, for the great part of its history, much unstable. This plight was perpetuated by the domination of the Dutch people, as well as by the French people. Netherlands became nearly devastated, economically. Vermeer was particularly affected. His paintings could not provide enough funds to sustain his own large family. He was affected mentally and, in the end, he died.
It is highly unlikely that the continued use of something, regardless of that form and matter it ids can survive the test of time. The draperies are not an exception. It is logical to conclude from Vermeer paintings that the trade between various parts of the world during the 17th century was the dawn of the modern global world. The items of trade produced in different parts promoted material – culture exchanges. Different classes, gender, and races participated in the trading activities that involved these commodities and others. The impacts of the exchanges perpetuates to the modern relations of various nations in the world. This was truly a milestone in the world history of civilization.