Title: Africa by Adriaen Collaert (after Maerten de Vos)
Place: Antwerp
Date: c. 1588 – 89
Medium & technique: Engraving on paper
Dimensions: 220 x 269 mm
Themes: Global – Local
Collection: Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne. Purchased, 2016.

Africa and America 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 Africa, the distant ruins of an ancient Egyptian city provide a glimpse of Africa’s noble past; present day Africa, however, is depicted as largely inhabited by dangerous wild animals. 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.