Vermeer's Hat by Timothy Brook
published 2008 chapter 2
Vermeer must have owned several hats. No document mentions this, but no Dutchman of his generation and status went out in public bare-headed. Take a look at the people in the foreground of View of Delft and you will see that everyone, male and female, has a hat or head covering. A poor man made do with wearing a slouch cap known as a klapmuts, but the better sort flaunted the kind of hat we see in Officer and Laughing Girl. We should not be surprised to see the officer wearing his lavish creation indoors. When Vermeer painted a man without a hat, he was someone at work: a music teacher or a scientist. A courting man did not go hatless. The custom for men to remove their hats when entering a building or greeting a woman (a custom generally forgotten today) was not being observed. The only person before whom a European gentleman bared his head was his monarch, but as Dutchmen prided themselves in bowing to no monarch and scorned those who did, their hats stayed on. Vermeer himself wears hats in the two scenes into which he painted himself. In his cameo appearance as a musician in The Procuress he wears an extravagant beret that slouches almost to his shoulder. In The Art of Painting ten years later he wears a much smaller black beret, even then the distinguishing badge of the artist.
observations: We do like a hat at Clothes in Books – the history and customs associated with them are so much more than just keeping the head warm. We’ve visited this non-fiction book before, and this particular trail (in the book’s fascinating look at trade and the transportation of objects, ideas and people in the 17th century) is going to lead to the dealings in fur, and particularly beaver-for-hats, that opened up large parts of North America at that time. The book will also explain that the word ‘klapmuts’ was also used for a kind of soup bowl, and why, although oriental porcelain was all the rage, Chinese soup bowls were no good for European diners. Timothy Brook is a positive fountain of information.
The picture, from the Biblioteque Nationale of Canada, formed part of a monograph on the history and traditions of the Canadian beaver. The Officer and Laughing Girl is in the Frick Collection in New York – link above. The Procuress is in Dresden and The Art of Painting is in Vienna.
With thanks, again, to JS for the book.
Links up with: A favourite previous hat entry is here. More on when men wear their hats and when they take them off in the comments on this entry – hats and trains, two of our favourite things. What was a Tom and Jerry hat? Find out about it (though not in all truth very definitively) here.