Bowdoin College Museum of Art

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Artists

Claes Jansz. Visscher (Piscator) (1587 – 1652); Cornelia van Dalen the Younger (1638 – 1664)

Title

America, from The Four Continents

Creation Date

ca. 1950

Century

mid 16th-early 17th century

Dimensions

8 7/8 in. x 6 9/16 in. (22.5 cm. x 16.7 cm.)

Object Type

print

Creation Place

Europe, Netherlands

Medium and Support

engraving on paper

Credit Line

Gift of David P. Becker, Class of 1970

Copyright

Public Domain

Accession Number

1994.10.337
Personifications of the Four Continents became widely popular in European art throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and appeared in a variety of media. These allegories varied greatly depending on their context, illustrated by Pieter Van de Aa’s Nova Orbis Terraquei Tabula Accuratissime Delineata, on view nearby. In Visscher’s engraving, the allegorical figures are in various states of despair, mourning the death of Portuguese prince Theodosius III (d. 1653). Broken weaponry and armor connect these scenes, suggesting the continuous battles for military power among these competing empires. These personifications also reveal European sentiments about each continent. Africa, flanked by two lions, despondently gestures toward the heavens, as if seeking help from outside sources. America, partially clothed with a feather headdress, carries a broken bow and arrows. The inclusion of weaponry reminds us of Indigenous and Europeans’ vicious fight for control over the New World’s land and resources. As if to emphasize this, various goods are placed at America’s feet, signaling the bounty of resources to be found in there.

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