Title: America 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.

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.

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.