Annual Lecture 2012

Prof. Timothy Brook

The Coins on Vermeer's Table

Lecture Summary

Gazing at the canvasses of Golden Age Dutch artists such as Johannes Vermeer, we think we are surveying a domestic reality removed from the bustle of the real world. In fact, the real world is constantly asserting its presence throughout these paintings in the form of seemingly minor objects, which in truth have major historical significance that highlight the global interactions of that day. A closer look at Vermeer’s paintings surprisingly reveals more than expert brushstrokes of a skilful artist from the small Dutch town of Delft: beaver fur from Canada, porcelain from China, and silver from Peru. All items, despite their apparently commonplace nature, emphasize a wider world that stretches from Europe to Asia to the Americas through the exchange and networks of goods and people. With a historical perspective, this lecture will reveal how in reality Vermeer’s paintings are doors opening upon corridors of global connections.


Biographical Note

Timothy Brook holds the Republic of China Chair at the University of British Columbia, Canada. As a historian, he has examined and published upon a range of topics on China from history of Buddhists and Christian converts to commerce and Japanese collaboration. In his recent book Vermeer’s Hat, which has been published in eight languages, he delves into the paintings of Johannes Vermeer to illuminate the connections between China and Europe during the 17th century as the “dawn of the global world”.