Title: America by Adriaen Collaert (after Maerten de Vos)
Place: Antwerp
Date: 1588–89
Medium & technique: Engraving on paper
Dimensions: 215 x 260 mm
Themes: Global – Local
Collection: Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne. Purchased, 2016.

America and Africa come from a famous series, The Four Continents, designed by the Flemish painter Maarten de Vos (1532–1603), and printed by the Antwerp engraver Adriaen Collaert (c. 1560–1618). In the sixteenth century, as accounts of non-European peoples and places became more readily accessible, allegorical personifications served Europeans as a means to construct and understand these diverse cultures. In America, a naked woman represents the western hemisphere, a space known as America since the 1507 publication of Martin Waldseemuller’s Cosmographiae Introductio. Wearing a feathered headdress and mounted on an armadillo, she holds an axe in one hand and a bow in the other; in her back is a quiver full of arrows. Her figure evokes classical nudes, and contrasts baldly with the savage acts taking place behind her. To her left, a battle rages between the Native Americans and the Spaniards, armour and pikes against axes and arrows. To her right, a man is cutting up parts of a human body, while another turns a human limb on a spit above an open fire. Both America and Africa appear in these prints as the personifications of primitive, barbaric and even cannibalistic lands, over which Europe holds moral, cultural and technological dominance.

Cassandra Kiely, Catherine Mahoney, & Anne Dunlop, University of Melbourne

Further Reading:

Stephanie Porras, ‘Copies, Cannibals and Conquerors: Maarten De Vos’ The Big Fish Eat the Small’, Nederlands Kunsthistorich Jaarboek 64 (2014): 248-271.

Edmond Smith, ‘De-personifying Collaert’s Four Continents: European descriptions of continental diversity, 1585–1625’, European Review of History: Revue européenne d’histoire 21/6 (2014): 817-835.