Egypt’s Minister of Culture translates “Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World” into Arabic for Kalima
ABU DHABI - Within the framework of preparations for the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which will open its doors to the public from March 28 to April 2, 2012, Kalima, the translation initiative of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority published a new book entitled “Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World” written by British Historian Timothy Brook. The first English edition of Brook’s was published in 2008.
“Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World” falls in what could be called - in general – as cultural studies and, in particular, cultural criticism.
The author takes us with him to Holland - or what was called “Low Countries” in the past - in the seventeenth century. Johan Vermeer, perhaps one the most famous light artists in the history of art, was born in the city of Delft. The art history does not mention any other artist after him with such a passion for light, apart from comparing him with “Van Gogh” and his scintillating suns in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Vermeer drew one of his most important paintings in Delft, including “Officer with a Laughing Girl” in which the officer wears a special large fur hat - where the title of the book stems from. The headquarters of the main branch of the Dutch East India Company was also in Delft from which ships set sail to the east with sailors and goods and return with some of the sailors only, but with many other various goods. This is how the real history of globalization began - as Brook said - from there, from that place, and that time.
The author then takes us from art to life and from life to art; from art that is in life - trade of paintings, pottery, fur, textiles and others - to life that is in art - shipbuilding industry, tobacco trade, cultural exchanges, wars and major conflicts that have taken place here and there, which initiated the great colonial era in human history and which art monitored or record its scattered remnants here and there.
The author’s English language was mostly entertaining. It was full of metaphors, comparisons, norms, poetic verses and cultural references to the east at times and to the west at other times. During all this, there was a heavy presence of art, history, geography, the world of sailing and trade, shipbuilding, cultural and human practices civilization and scientific discoveries. This was reflected on the translated version of the book. The book’s Arabic language was classic at times and contemporary at other times. Vocabulary, expressions and names of Chinese and Western flags and others seemed to be omnipresent throughout this entertaining text.
The famous Dutch artist “Vermeer” (October 31, 1632 - December 16, 1675) lived during the seventeenth century, which had witnessed major changes. Vermeer embodied many of these transformations and changes in his paintings and used in this illusional techniques and dark rooms “Camera obscura” which were used by Muslim scientist and philosopher Al Hassan Ibn Al Haitham (965-1039). The “dark rooms” pictures of “reasonable quality” possess a unique optical feeling.
They produce a feeling full of tone and colour and provide a fine intensification free of roughness, glare or artificial decoration. The minor differences between light and shadow in them, which seem very common and unconscious of its scarcity so that it becomes difficult to record them in the original scene, become - through the dark rooms - clear here. The tonal effects of colours gain a new degree of cohesion, which has been demonstrated in Vermeer’s work. It was said that he used these dark rooms to uncover some distinctive optical properties that are less clear, or unclear in nature and highlight them.
There are also those matters that are related to codes and explanations for work, which are not literally present in it, but figuratively and symbolically. Vermeer’s “A Woman Weighs a Piece of Silver” (1657) painting can be explained as a woman who weighs goods or jewelry or gold or silver. etc. .., in other words the world’s materialistic things, with a delicate balance. She stands before a painting of a day of reckoning, when humans’ good and bad dead will be weighed. The comparison between these two processes of weight cannot be ignored in this painting. These are psychological or knowledge things that are not formatively embodied. But some of us are more interested in those formative elements in the painting, such as that picture of the day of reckoning.
The author depicts through the chapters of this book the beginnings of globalization from his point of view as reflected through Vermeer’s paintings and through the things that are in these paintings - such as silver, hats, glasses, porcelain dishes, maps, etc. He monitors history through them as embodied in the maritime trips and the wars between nations which took place between in the East and West and other topics. The author says: “When we wander Vermeer’s paintings with our eyes. It looks like if we are entering an alive world full of real human beings who are surrounded by the things that give special meaning through their presence in their homes or homeland. The characters and ambiguous forms in the paintings carry secrets which we cannot discover because that is their world but not ours. However, Vermeer drew these characters in a way that seems to be giving us a feeling that we have entered an intimate place where everything 'looks like it is as well'.”
In Vermeer’s case, the places were real, but perhaps not exactly in the same way that he drew them. Vermeer was not, above all, a photographer, but an artist who let us enter and get closer to his world; the world of a middle class family who lived in Delft during the middle of the seventeenth century even if Delft did not entirely appear as portrayed by Vermeer. In spite of that, the pictures he sent us through his paintings are significantly identical and enough for us to go into that world and think about what we can find in it.
The author presents his questions through his own examination of the paintings, or rather accurately things - or topics - in the paintings. He asks us to leave some of our habits when looking at the paintings. One of these most prominent habits is the tendency to consider the paintings as windows directly open to another time and place. It is misleadingly illusional as he says that we believe that the Vermeer’s paintings are pictures directly taken from life in Delft in the seventeenth century. Paintings are not “taken” (or picked up) as is the case of photos. Paintings are “made” in a careful and prudent manner. Their goal is not to provide an objective reality to the extent that the reason behind them is to offer a special display scenario. This trend affects the way through which we look at things/themes in the paintings. We then believe that paintings are like windows. Brook then tells us that we need to deal with issues (things) that exist in them as two-dimensional details that reveal that the past was either different from what we know today or is the same as we know it today, as if a photo was taken of him.
Brook’s style, as mentioned earlier, is entertaining as it combines fun and interest. He is fond of details, but these details are quickly organized in a whole and useful picture. His narrative is a world on various parts. We find in this world the story, historical, political, economic and literary information. We find metaphors, comparisons, norms and poetry. We find inappropriate sarcasm, irony and joke and pun. We find the fate of humans and the beginning and ends of things and we find ourselves reading a fun book that combines art, literature, economics and politics.
Brook was born in 1951 in Toronto, Canada. He a distinguished historian and has published many books and important scientific research that mostly revolves around the history of China. He held many academic and university positions, including: Shaw Chair of Chinese Studies at Oxford University, Professor and Director of the University of British Columbia’s St. John’s College and Academic Director of the Contemporary Tibetan Studies Program at the University of British Columbia's Institute of Asian Research.
He has a large number of important books about Asian societies, history, economy, politics and international trade in these communities such as:
1. Praying for Power: Buddhism and the Formation of Gentry Society in Late-Ming China (1993).
2. The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China (1998).
Brook’s book has been translated by Dr. Shaker Abdel Hamid, Egypt’s Minister of Culture and Professor of Psychology of Creativity at the Academy of Arts. Dr. Abdel Hamid served as Vice President of the Academy of Arts, Dean of the Higher Institute of Arts Criticism at the Academy of Arts and Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Culture. He is currently (March 2012) Egypt’s Minister of Culture. He was recently awarded the Sheikh Zayed Book Award in the Arts category for his book “Art and Strangeness.”
He published more than twenty books including: “Childhood and Creativity” (in five parts); “Literature and Madness”; “Psychological Foundations of Literary Creativity for the Short Story”; “The Creative Process in Photography”; “Aesthetic Preference”; “Humour and Laughter”; “The Age of Photography” and “Fantasy”.
He translated over eight books including: “The Beginnings of Modern Psychology”; “Myth and Meaning”; “The Psychological Study of Literature”; “The Enriched School Approach”; “Dictionary of Semiotics or the Science of Signs”; “Genius, Creativity and Leadership”; “The Psychology of Performing Arts.”
Dr. Abdel Hamid is specialized in the studies of creativity for children and adults and has many studies in the visual and literary criticism.