Europe Views the World by Larry Silver is the first book to provide a fully synoptic view of European imagery of other continents in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Encompassing works such as prints, paintings, maps, tapestries and sculptural objects, this book addresses the overall question of an emerging European self-definition through the evidence of visual culture, however biased, about the wider world in its component parts.
In this short article, author Larry Silver considers the very beginnings of a European awareness of 'global context' and how visual culture contributed to Europe's view of the world...
Jan Mostaert, Landscape with an Episode from the Conquest of America, c. 1535, oil on panel, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Courtesy the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Today’s contemporary world seems determined to view everything in a ‘global context.’ That connection, especially between Europe and the rest of the globe, began only at the end of the fifteenth century, when Columbus for Spain and Vasco da Gama for Portugal made their famous sea voyages to unfamiliar continents. Of course, today travel by air enables many of us to make similar visits to explore new continents. But the surprise, even shock, to familiar life patterns must have been overwhelming at first in this ‘early modern’ moment.
Albert Eckhout, African Man and African Woman, ca. 1641, oil on canvas, National Museum, Copenhagen, Wikimedia Commons.
Albert Eckhout, Tapuya Woman and Tapuya Man, 1641, oil on canvas, National Museum, Copenhagen, Wikimedia Commons.
Many of the new discoveries were reported in the new medium of print and printed images, often based on travel accounts by returning expeditions. This book examines the new visual accounts of each region that Europeans visited. It also records how the earlier, imagined foreign ‘creatures’ were gradually transformed into a variety of responses - some of these were horrific, including slavery and brutal conquest, but other responses were fascinated, even admiring, especially after a couple of centuries of exposure.
Encompassing works such as prints, paintings, maps, tapestries, and sculptural objects, this book addresses the overall question of an emerging European self-definition through the evidence of visual culture, however biased, about the wider world in its component parts.
Peter Paul Rubens, Miracles of St Francis Xavier, c. 1617, oil on canvas, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Gemäldegalerie. Courtesy Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Gemäldegalerie.
Proceeding from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, this study examines the varied responses from each region in turn: the nearby Islamic Ottoman empire of Turkey; New Spain and Brazil; Africa, South Asia; East Asia (China and Japan). But it also attempts to suggest how those areas responded variously in turn to the arrival of European ships and travellers. While Europeans sometimes successfully established colonies abroad, the older, more powerful empires of Asia successfully controlled and resisted intrusions across this entire early period of contact.
Nanban screen ('Southern Barbarians'), early 17th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
No other book takes on such a broad geographic sweep, nor does another view from Europe also consider how Europeans were viewed in turn from abroad. As a result, Europe Views the World provides an early gateway to today’s global environment.
- Larry Silver, 2022