All empires in human history have glorified their victories and triumphs in the visual arts—painting, sculpture, and architecture. The Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and others have raised monuments to their imperial cities and states. Republican and imperial Rome, the great exemplar of the later European empires, raised statues, arches, and columned monuments to glorify military victories, conquering emperors, and the city and empire itself. Romans also created triumphal paintings to depict historical events and celebrate victories, conquests, and the cult of the emperors. In their imperial expansion, the Romans came to appreciate, expropriate, and copy the art of peoples and cultures they conquered. The Romans were particularly influenced by Greek sculpture and architecture. Relief sculpture carved into triumphal arches, victory columns, and statues of emperors glorified both the imperial throne and the empire. The Arch of Titus, dedicated in 81 CE in Rome, immortalized the successful conquest of Jerusalem in the year 70. The relief panel, Spoils from the Temple of Jerusalem, showing Roman troops carrying trumpets, the menorah, and the golden table from the temple, dramatizes one of the most important motivations of all empires.
One of the characteristics of premodern empires around the world was their tendency to assimilate the more advanced cultures of peoples and civilizations they conquered. The European empires of the early modern and modern ages, on the other hand, showed little interest in or appreciation of the cultures and arts of their subject peoples and, indeed, the rest of the world. In time this would change. By the late nineteenth and throughout the twentieth century, many artists in the Western world would become captivated by the vernacular and formal arts of the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, and would, as a result, transform the visual arts of the West.
European imperialism and colonialism influenced Western art in three fundamental ways. First, the imperial powers, monarchs, and patrons created paintings, sculpture, and architecture to glorify their expansionist, imperialist, and idealistic objectives. Second, the expansion of European power and settlement around the world spread European traditions of painting, sculpture, and architecture to colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Finally, European trade and contact with the rest of the world brought non-European luxury goods, aesthetic values, and arts to the West—as well as Western artists to the colonies—which gradually came to influence, in various ways, the course of Western art.
Portuguese architecture began to reflect its overseas expansion in the reign of King Manuel I, "the Fortunate" (1469–1521), creating what has come to be called the Manueline style of architectural ornamentation. This estylo manuelina incorporated nautical and maritime motifs, such as sea monsters, shells, nautical rope, and much else. One of the monuments of the Manueline style is the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, which was built to glorify and commemorate the voyage of Vasco da Gama (ca. 1469–1524) to India. The sumptuous main entrance features several carved figures, including one of Henry the Navigator (1392–1460), the royal prince who promoted the African voyages of discovery and trade in the fifteenth century. The Jerónimos Monastery came to hold the tomb of Gama, as well as that of Luís de Camões (ca. 1524–1570), the great national poet of Portugal's age of discovery.
The Spanish Empire began its self-glorification with a painting by Ajejo Fernanñdez (1475–1545), The Virgin of the Navigators (ca. 1535), a work designed for the altarpiece of the chapel of the Casa de Contratación (the House of Trade) in Seville. The painting depicts a devotional image of the Virgin Mary in which the Madonna shelters Spain's Indies fleet and its great navigators—Christopher Columbus (1451–1506), Ferdinand Magellan (1480–1521), and one of the Pinzón brothers, as well as King Ferdinand (1452–1516) and indistinct Indians and Africans. The Virgin of the Navigators is standing astride the new Iberian Atlantic world. It is a painting that indicates the success of Spain's imperial mission and the glory of Spain's Holy Faith, La Santa Fé, with the substantial enlargement of Christendom.
During Spain's great age of imperial glory in the sixteenth century, there were few civic monuments and little statuary sponsored by royal patronage. The portal of the University of Salamanca (completed in 1529) raised the imperial arms of Charles V (1500–1558) beside those of Ferdinand and Isabella (1451–1504). The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial of King Philip II (1527–1598), a religious retreat and royal palace, the greatest architectural project of the age, demonstrated the grandeur and power of the Spanish Habsburgs. Philip had his throne room decorated with the beautiful Renaissance maps of the Spanish realms in Europe and the Americas taken from Abraham Ortelius's (1527–1598) Theatrum orbis terrarum (Theater of the World, 1588), an atlas of hand-colored engravings.
Two centuries later, the Royal Palace in Madrid was used as one of the best stages to glorify the monarchy and empire. In the throne room, the ceiling fresco, The Wealth and Benefits of the Spanish Monarchy under Charles III by the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770), presented one of the great allegorical works of European art. This room was the center of the palace and the symbolic center of the empire: the various Spanish imperial possessions were visible from the throne. This fresco shows the loading of a ship with the treasures of the American continent, and in the foreground two Native Americans are shown throwing themselves in front of the ship, symbolizing the conquest of the Americas by Spain. On the exterior façade of the Royal Palace stand sculptures of the Inca and Aztec emperors—Atahualpa and Moctezuma—captured by Spanish conquerors in the early sixteenth century as a prelude to the conquest and destruction of their realms. Philip V (1683–1746) commanded the erection of these large statues of the vanquished to stand as symbols not only of the power of Spain but also of the new Age of Enlightenment. These sculptures presented these Native American emperors as great and honorable kings, worthy to stand alongside the statues of Spanish kings.
In the mid-seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic expressed its rising power and wealth in the Amsterdam Town Hall (Het Stadhuis), one of the largest architectural undertakings of the early modern era. The exterior statuary on the roof pediments showed, on one side, the Dutch Atlas bearing the weight of the globe and, on the other, Amsterdam receiving the tribute of the four continents. This latter allegory, one of the classic images of the age of European colonialism, represented the non-European world naturally subordinate to Europe, and the world's wealth and resources the inevitable fruit of European commerce and empire. In the greatest room in the greatest building of the Dutch Republic, the Burgerzaal (the "town hall" or public gallery), the Dutch Republic was placed in the center of a marble-inlaid world map that covered the entire floor. Not unlike the other expansionist European empires, even the modest and mercantile Dutch were moved to "acts of elaborate self-congratulation" (1997, p. 223), as the historian Simon Schama put it, in ceremonies, architecture, sculpture, and—indeed—most of the visual arts.
During the Dutch "golden age," the seventeenth century, Dutch painters created a substantial body of marine art, sea paintings, that depicted naval battles, great fleets, specific ships, and everyday shipping and commerce. Ludolf Backhuysen's The "Eendracht" and a Dutch Fleet of Men-of-War Before the Wind (early 1670s) gives a heroic representation of the Dutch fleet with its flagship, the Eendracht (Unity). Historical paintings of the sea battles with the Spanish and the English, returning fleets from the East Indies, and great ships of battle were extremely popular among patrons and public institutions in the Netherlands and reflected and promoted Dutch pride in naval and commercial preeminence.
The British similarly glorified their empire in murals, history paintings, sculpture, architecture, and even royal coaches. In the Commissioner's House of the Royal Navy at Chatham Dockyard is a large painting on the ceiling of the main staircase. Completed around 1705, this painting shows Mars receiving a crown of shells from Neptune, while in the foreground stand figures that symbolize Peace, Plenty, Justice, and Charity. The figure of a majestic Neptune was significant to onlookers of the age because it was a symbol of the Royal Navy's mastery of the sea. More than a century later, Queen Victoria's (1819–1901) residence on the Isle of Wight, Osborne House, also had an allegorical fresco above the main staircase. William Dyce's Neptune Resigning the Empire of the Seas to Britannia (1847) reveals the figure of "Britannia" receiving the crown of the sea from Neptune. Britannia, and Britain's seaborne empire, is also accompanied by three figures that both produced and were benefits of global empire: Industry, Commerce, and Navigation.
Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, the British created imperial history painting, a tradition that portrayed and glorified the great and symbolic events in the creation of the British Empire. From Benjamin West's The Death of General Wolf (1770), to Arthur William Devis's Death of Nelson (1805), and The Death of (1844–1925) General Gordon, Khartoum, 26 January 1885 by G. W. Joy, artists created a cult of heroism that glorified and promoted patriotic imperialism. Empires and their rulers found myriad and varied ways to glorify empire. King George III (1738–1820), for example, had England's best artisans make one of the most remarkable royal coaches in the age of horse-drawn vehicles. This colossal four-ton coach topped by three gilded cherubs symbolized the British kingdoms of English, Scotland, and Ireland. Over the four wheels were gilded sea gods that suggested that Britannia ruled the four oceans of the world. "It was as though the very grandeur, wealth, and weight of the British Empire," wrote historian David McCullough, referring to this great golden coast pulled by eight horses and accompanied by six footmen, "were rolling past" (2005, p. 4).
During the first three centuries of European empire and colonialism, the imperial monarchies, metropoles, and elite patrons employed the visual arts to justify and glorify empire. Imperial themes, particularly nonclassical and nonmythological imperial themes, or references to oversea colonies, however, were relatively few and unimportant. France's Louis XIV (1638–1715), the "Sun King"—Le Roi Soleil—perhaps the greatest patron of art in European history, collected Renaissance sculpture and paintings of classical legends and history, sponsored frescos of the glories of the king himself, ordered statuary of the ancient gods and Roman emperors, and so much more. Very little of this enormous artistic patronage and creation had to do directly with French overseas imperialism and colonialism.
Louis XIV's commission and construction beginning in 1678 of the Palais de Versailles, an enormous complex of palaces and gardens, was Bourbon France's statement of grandeur much like El Escorial was the symbol of the power and glory of Philip II's Spain. The king's chief minister warned that such construction, which by the mid-1680s required 36,000 laborers and some 6,000 horses, would bankrupt the treasury. Louis continued to build, however, and filled the palace with the finest tapestries of France; hundreds of specially commissioned paintings; dozens and dozens of statues, busts, great vases, and other kinds of sculpture; and thousands of articles made of silver and gold, many of these inscribed and struck with the symbols of the king. The peerless Hall of Mirrors (the Grand Galerie, also called the Galerie des Glaces due to the seventeen windows and seventeen arched mirrors) was 73 meters (239.5 feet long), and on the ceiling Charles Le Brun (1619–1690) painted the mythological symbols of the triumphs of France over Spain, the Netherlands, and Germany. By the early eighteenth century, Versailles and its gardens became the model for royal and noble palaces from Moravia to England. "Not since the extension of ancient Latin culture through Western Europe," wrote Will and Ariel Durant, "had history seen a cultural conquest so rapid and complete" (1963, p. 103).
Philhellenism, literally, the "love of Greek culture," is an intellectual movement rooted in a growing interest in classical art and architecture that developed in Europe and England during the late 1700s. This Neoclassicism, fueled by the discovery of the ruins at Pompeii and the arrival of the Parthenon's Elgin Marbles in London, was also influenced by Jean Jacques Barthelemy's 1788 Travels of Anacharsis the Younger in Greece, a fictional account of an ancient traveler that captured the popular imagination and spread philhellenism from France to Great Britain and greater Europe.
To its adherents, philhellenism embodied the egalitarian ideologies of the failed French revolution. It was inspired by an idealized vision of the Ancient Greeks as the founders of Western civilization. Ignoring the historical record, philhellenists transformed the ancients into a free people who espoused equality. This ideal, while not substantiated by fact, melded with Enlightenment philosophies and the political and social goals of both the French and American revolutions. As a political force, it was pushed underground as the restoration of the French monarchy following the Battle of Waterloo crushed liberal zeal in France, and elsewhere. It reemerged, however, as the suppression of other newly radicalized populations throughout the Old World fomented rebellion. The uprising of the Greek people against their Ottoman rulers was particularly inspiring to Napoléon's defeated followers throughout France, as well as to that country's student population. Meanwhile, as a romanticized ideal, philhellenism entered the culture of the prosperous merchant class via literature, clothing styles, and the clean, classically influenced lines of Empire furniture.
The culmination of the philhellenic ideal, and the vision that most inspired philhellenism's artistic and intellectual adherents, was the goal of establishing a Greek state on the same land where stood the ruins of the Parthenon. Though the Greeks' unsuccessful uprising against the Ottoman Turks in 1770 had sparked some creative passion, their 1821 revolt prompted intellectuals such as British writer Lord Byron to call for governments to support the Greek independence movement. In his writings, Byron depicted Greece as a "sad relic" of an ancient culture and the Greek revolutionaries as "primitive savages" in need of help from Western society to overthrow the tyrannical Turks. Viewed in hindsight, the philhellenic movement also reflected the patronizing racism of the age; the Greeks, viewed as early Europeans, were thought of as fighting off the despotism of a non-white oppressor; their victory could only come through the aid of white Europeans.
In Great Britain, Byron so strongly influenced public sentiment that the British government overlooked its longstanding support for Ottoman claims and sided with the rebel forces in Greece. European public opinion also sided heavily with the rebels, particularly in larger cities. The British government contributed financial aid, as well as volunteers from among philhellenism's more zealous followers, and influenced continental European powers to do likewise. Ironically, Byron, who joined the Greek insurgents in 1923, succumbed to marsh fever and died at Missolonghi, in central Greece, a year later.
Western Europeans, of course, did not visually ignore their overseas colonies. Princes, merchants, and ordinary readers expressed a great interest about the "New Worlds" that mariners, conquerors, traders, and settlers were finding, colonizing, and writing about. The first books about the Americas, Africa, and Asia were often illustrated with woodcuts and then engravings. The sixteenth-century engraver Theodor de Bry (1528–1598) became one of the most important popularizers of the European discoveries and conquests of the Americas. He shaped, to a considerable extent, how Europeans first viewed and understood the New World of America. De Bry, however, who never traveled to the Americas, used classical and Renaissance models to create his American landscapes, buildings, and native body types. In 1590 de Bry published twenty-eight engravings of North America taken from the drawings and watercolors of the English artist and governor John White, who was one of the settlers of the Roanoke colony. White's original watercolors, unquestionably the most skilled and sensitive renderings of Native Americans to that time, were not discovered until the early eighteenth century. White's artistry, however, helped de Bry produce the best engravings of his career.
In Dutch Brazil in the 1630s and 1640s, Governor Count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen (1604–1679) brought two exceedingly talented painters from the Netherlands. Frans Post (1612–1680) painted Brazilian landscapes that pictured plantations, native villages, and the lushness of American tropical nature. The paintings of Albert Eckhout (ca. 1610–1665), following those of John White, provided the most detailed and realistic representations of Native Americans. Eckhout's Dance of the Tapuya Indians (ca. 1640), one of twenty-four paintings of Native Americans and Africans that have resided in Copenhagen since 1654, contributed to the European concept of the exotic savage. Eckhout's three portraits of an African ambassador, on the other hand, show a dignified, if somewhat sad, black African dressed in the finest clothing available to European noblemen of the age.
The paintings of Post and Eckhout began a European tradition of natural history drawing and painting by artist-scientists. Hans Sloane (1660–1753), "Fellow of the College of Physicians and Secretary of the Royal-Society [for promoting natural knowledge]," made a voyage to Jamaica in the late seventeenth century and employed a local artist to illustrate specimens of plants, fishes, birds, and insects. Paul Hermann (ca. 1646–1695), a doctor for the Dutch East Indies Company in Ceylon in the 1670s, drew detailed pictures of native plants, some animals, and illustrations of a Dutch toddy palm plantation (an enterprise that produced the alcoholic "toddy" made from the sap of a palm tree). A German artist and naturalist, Maria Merian (1647–1717), spent two years (1699–1701) in Surinam observing nature, which allowed her, when she returned to Amsterdam, to create sixty colored engravings of butterflies and moths and a few frogs, snakes, and one incredible caiman, shown biting a large coral snake.
The voyages in the Pacific in the late eighteenth century by the English explorer Captain James Cook (1728–1779) produced thousands of drawings and paintings by the artists and draftsmen who accompanied these expeditions. The three principal artists produced landscapes, coastal profiles, depictions of plants and animals, and "'ethnographic" (that is, realistic) and sympathetic portraits of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific. There were, of course, many more examples of Europeans drawing and painting what was to them the new, the exotic, and the previously unknown nature and peoples of their overseas colonies and trading posts. This extended and extensive intrusion into other parts of the world gave Europeans images not only of different peoples and cultures, but also images of different kinds of adornment, design, beauty, and aesthetic values. But neither indigenous arts nor any European representation of them, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, appeared to have the slightest influence on the evolution of the visual arts in Western Europe during these centuries.
When Europeans established overseas trading enclaves and territorial colonies they carried their broader Western and specific regional and national cultures with them. An important part of this cultural transmission included the visual arts, as seen, perhaps most significantly, in religious architecture, sculpture, painting, and decoration; secular architecture in governmental and private palaces; and historical painting, among many other activities.
The Portuguese and the Spanish built chapels, churches, and cathedrals in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. By the early seventeenth century, estimated one cleric, the Spanish had built some seventy thousand chapels and churches throughout their territories in the Americas. This enormous building campaign, which also included many thousands of impressive secular public buildings in the new and well-ordered towns and cities of Spanish America, constituted one of the great imperial projects in human history. The rapid and widespread imposition of Spanish architecture of very large, dramatically positioned, and impressively ornamented buildings signified and broadcast to the colonized natives, as well as to colonial settlers, the religious, cultural, and technological superiority and power of Spain and Europe.
Although the designs were European, the lack of sufficient numbers of European craftsmen required the missionaries to train and employ Native American, African, and Asian craftsmen, sculptors, gilders, painters, and other skilled workmen to do almost all of the work. The Portuguese carried the Manueline style of architecture to Angola, Mozambique, and India. In the Portuguese Indian port of Goa, Hindu artists and artisans for several decades painted and sculpted Christian images for the chapels and churches of the city. Their likenesses of Christ, Mary, and the saints, however, had too much Indian "flavor" for the Portuguese. By 1546, the king ordered the viceroy to end the practice of using Hindu craftsmen to make Christian art. The archbishop of Goa, equally unhappy, forbade Christians in his province to commission or purchase religious art from Hindu artists. In the interior of Brazil, however, ivory crucifixes from Goa made by Hindu craftsmen found their way into the cathedral of São Luís do Maranhão.
In Spanish America, native craftsmen—in fact, native artists—injected pre-Columbian motifs, symbols, and stylistic conventions in the murals they painted, the altar screens they gilded, and the church façades they sculpted. In the Augustinian convent in Tlayacapan, Morelos (Mexico), for example, the mural painting is decorated here and there with scenes of Aztec warriors and other preconquest images. The façades of early missionary churches and monasteries often had pre-Columbian motifs as part of the overall decoration. In New Spain, this artistic syncretism did not survive the sixteenth century. In Spanish South America, on the other hand, it flourished in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Anonymous pupils of the Indian painter Quispe Tito (1611–1681), an influential native artist who adopted European fresco painting, produced paintings in colonial Peru in the second half of the seventeenth century that fused Spanish and Inca artistic styles, symbols, and motifs. The fresco Corpus Christi Procession with the Parishioners of Santa Ana (ca. 1660) in Cuzco, Peru, shows a Corpus Christi procession led by an Indian leader dressed in royal Inca costume. A little more than half a century later, the Indian architect José Kondori constructed churches in the great silver mining boom city of Potosí. In the façade of his baroque San Lorenzo Church (ca. 1728), one finds an Inca princess and Andean half-moons.
In Portuguese Brazil, Antônio Francisco Lisboa (1738–1814), known as O Aleijadinho, "the Little Cripple," became the most influential sculptor and architect of the Brazilian baroque. This mulatto artist, the son of a Portuguese architect and an African slave, designed, built, and decorated a number of chapels, churches, and convents in the gold-rich province of Minas Gerais in the second half of the eighteenth century. Some of his significant commissions include the Church of São Francisco de Assis in Ouro Preto (1776), the church of the Ordem Terceira do Carmo de Sabará and sculptures on the façade of the church of the Ordem Terceira de São Francisco in Ouro Prèto. Beginning in the 1770s, this skilled artist and artisan began to suffer from a debilitating disease that increasingly left him crippled. In spite of this disability, Aleijadinho produced life-size, cedarwood sculptures of scenes of the passion and death of Christ during the 1790s. Undoubtedly the most extraordinary works of art created by this remarkable colonial artist are the soapstone statues of the twelve prophets of the Old Testament that lead up to the Sanctuary of Bon Jesus do Matozinho in Congonhas do Campo (1800–1803). With a chisel bound to his nearlyparalyzed fingers, Aleijadinho produced figures that have a gothic, expressionistic appeal and appearance. "These impressive works," wrote the art historian Edward J. Sullivan, "are among the most significant sculptures of the Western Baroque-Rococo tradition" (2001, p. 238).
The West had always desired some of the decorative arts of specific other civilizations, although this interest was often a craving for rare and exotic "crafts" rather than a true appreciation of such work as genuine art. Western markets had long demanded Chinese porcelain (porcelaneous ceramics), lacquer wares (with a varnish made from the sap of the lac tree), and cloisonné enamel (fired enamel designs on copper cups, vases, and boxes), as well as works of jade, glass, and silk. Aristocratic, wealthy, and eventually even gentry households throughout Europe and the Americas were considered bereft if they did not possess at least one set of "chinaware" for serving meals and decorating the house.
By the early eighteenth century, a great many Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese craftsmen were manufacturing chinoiserie—all things Chinese—for the European market. Europeans also came to demand all manner of Indian textiles—chintz, calicoes, muslins, silks, madras, and many others—as well as richly carved ivories, inlaid chests, cupboards, tables, and other kinds of Oriental furniture. From the Middle East, Europeans exported carpets made in Turkey and Cairo, as well as Central Asia.
In the mid and late eighteenth century, European artists began, more than ever before, to travel to the many and often quite distant outposts of their overseas colonies to record, represent, and interpret the landscapes, architecture, peoples, and customs of the non-European world and bring these images before the connoisseurs and public at home. The French artist Anne-Louis Girodet (1767–1824) wrote in 1817: "Painting and navigation in changing the face of the world necessarily had a powerful influence on the destiny of the arts. The first did so in ceaselessly extending the sphere of ideas; the second, in drawing further and further back the limits of the horizon." He noted that the restless artist sought foreign encounters: "The artist's restless curiosity compelled him courageously to sail from one pole to another in order to observe the foreign faces, extraordinary countries, and singular costumes of the most savage peoples" (quoted in Grigsby 2002, p. 3).
The European images of Surinam, India, Greece, Egypt and North Africa, Sudan, South Africa, and elsewhere created in the late eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century presented no single imperialist discourse about the triumph of the West and the inferiority or even barbarism of non-Europeans. Many works of art, of course, were both condescending and triumphalist. Taken as a whole, however, European artistic representations of Native Americans, Africans, East Indians, and other "others" were ambivalent and complex. Many artists, indeed, many of the best artists, depicted slaves and chieftains as dignified and noble individuals. The historian C. A. Bayly suggests one motive for artists: "They seemed to long for a past which had now sadly become 'the other'" (2004, p. 378). Appreciation of "the other" as a subject for art, for whatever reason, however, did not lead to any serious appreciation of nonEuropean arts, at least not for many decades.
As Europe, and the European world of settler colonies and independent states, increasingly came into contact with the colors, motifs, and styles of African, Asian, and Polynesian art, particularly after 1880, artists and the avant-garde among them first began to be influenced by, and incorporate elements of, non-European arts. During the last and most intense period of decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s, art museums in the cities of the West all had important collections of African, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Japanese, Native American, and other non-European arts. Western art itself, furthermore, was extremely eclectic, giving little more respect to classical or Renaissance traditions than to Maori, Bushman, Aztec, Inuit, Japanese, or other non-Western artistic traditions.
The late eighteenth century saw a new and serious European interest in the Orient and all things Oriental. By this time, Europeans were becoming fascinated, if not obsessed in some circles, with Oriental despotism, Oriental eroticism, Oriental exoticism, and other "isms" that seemed so alien yet interesting and appealing to the rising bourgeois culture. British artists had begun to draw, etch, and paint the scenery, peoples, and customs of India. One of these customs, the infamous sati (the Hindu practice by which a widow incinerated herself with the corpse of her husband), became a popular subject of artists in India. Johann Zoffany's Sacrifice of a Hindoo Widow on the Funeral Pile of Her Husband (ca. 1780), and many similar such pictures, suggested the barbarism of non-European traditions and "superstitions." Thomas Daniell (1749–1840) and William Daniell (1769–1837) traveled through India between 1785 and 1794 and, upon their return, produced 140 rich color aquatints. Between 1795 and 1808 the Daniells published six volumes of Oriental Scenery, with pictures of Indians antiquities, exotic architecture, and spellbinding landscapes that enchanted and fascinated Britons.
The organized and popular campaigns in Britain and France to abolish the Atlantic slave trade, and plantation slavery itself, inspired artists to reveal and portray this terrible and violent outgrowth of Western colonialism. The English radical, poet, and artist William Blake (1757–1827) illustrated the raw nature of American slavery in the Dutch plantation colony of Surinam in John Gabriel Stedman's Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam (1796, 1st ed.). Using Stedman's drawings and narration, Blake engraved sixteen plates for this book. He did not flinch in portraying the torture of African men and women in various and cruel ways. His engraving of the sadistic Flagellation of a Female Samboe Slave shows a naked young black woman tied by both arms above her head to a tree. She had received two hundred lashes for the "crime," according to Stedman, of refusing her master's "romantic embraces."
Anne-Louis Girodet in 1797 exhibited C Jean-Baptiste Bellêy, Ex-Representative of the Colonies, a portrait of the African deputy, the first representative from Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) to the French National Assembly. Citizen Belly, unlike most abolitionist images of the 1790s, is presented standing, not kneeling, impeccably dressed, a dignified French gentleman. To enhance the power of the image, the artist had Belly lean against the bust of the philosophe Guillaume-Thomas Raynal (1713–1796), one of the most vociferous critics in Enlightenment Europe of racial slavery and European colonialism.
Napoléon Bonaparte's (1769–1821) invasion of Egypt (1798–1799) with his "Army of the Orient" initiated a new wave, indeed the "high age of European imperialism," in the nineteenth century. Although the military campaign ultimately was a failure, the cultural, scientific, and artistic reverberation of the expedition continued for decades. Napoléon took more than 160 scientists, linguists, naturalists, architects, artists, and other experts to study, record, collect, and understand ancient and modern Egypt. The Army of the Orient produced victories against the ruling Ottomans but ended up surrendering to the British. Nevertheless, the Egyptian campaign became an integral part of the myth of the rise of the emperor. Antoine-François Callet (1741–1823) in Allegory of the Eighteenth of Brumaire (1801) includes a symbolic Egyptian among the images that chart the rising glory of Napoléon.
Antoine-Jean Gros (1771–1835), an official artist in an earlier military campaign, became one of the most important mythmakers of early nineteenth-century France. His Battle of Nazareth (1801) shows an outnumbered French army fighting, and eventually defeating, the Turks in Syria in 1799. In this painting, as is true for most of the paintings of the Egyptian campaign, the viewer is presented with a genuine clash of civilizations. The outnumbered yet orderly and courageous French soldiers are confronted with wild, murderous Muslim Turks who decapitated their wounded enemies. Both Gros in Battle of Aboukir (1806) and Louis-François Lejeune (1775–1848) in Battle of the Pyramids (1806) present images of enlightened valor contrasted with unthinking ferocity, the classic definition of civilization against barbarism.
Europe's rediscovery of the East in the last part of the eighteenth century, what art historian Raymond Schwab (1984) calls the "Oriental Renaissance," was one of the inspirations, if not the most important one, he argues, for the emergence of Romanticism. Romantic artists of the first half of the nineteenth century were interested in passion and drama, and sought to create unique and sometimes eccentric works of art, and many were fascinated with the exotic world of the Orient.
One such artist was Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863). Like many artists, poets, and intellectuals of his generation, the Greek war of independence against the Ottoman Turkish Empire in the 1820s became the cause célèbre of the their generation. During the war, the Turks massacred approximately twenty thousand Greeks on the island of Chios, an action that outraged the liberals and Romantics of Western Europe. This event was memorialized by Delacroix in Scenes from the Massacres at Chios (1822–1824). The picture focuses on defenseless Greek men, women, and children in the foreground waiting to be slaughtered by a determined and ruthless Turk on horseback. A few years later, Delacroix took a theme from ancient history for The Death of Sardanapalus (1827). This painting presents the Assyrian king, just prior to his own capture and execution, ordering and calmly watching the murder of his concubines, slaves, and animals in his harem. For European audiences, no better image could depict or symbolize the nature of Oriental despotism and cruelty.
The British, fighting colonial wars in Africa and Asia throughout the nineteenth century, had many battles, some great victories, and a few heroic defeats, which artists made into popular romantic and mythic spectacles. Frederick Goodall (1822–1904) condensed the great Indian Revolt of 1857 in The Relief of Lucknow 1857: Jessie's Dream (1858). In this intimate scene on the ramparts of the fort at Lucknow, brave British soldiers, and one unflappable officer in particular, defend their white women, who had been at the mercy of the dark Indian rebels. What this painting only hints at, with the inclusion of one Indian soldier among the ranks of the British, was that during the siege of Lucknow about half of the seven thousand people who sought refuge in the garrison were loyal Indian soldiers and their families.
In the Indian Revolt, as in most colonial wars, the battles were not simply between Europeans and nonEuropeans. Nineteenth-century paintings, however, rarely tried to illustrate this reality. Lady Elizabeth Butler's (1846–1933) The Defence of Rorke's Drift (1880) is an unrivaled example of this tendency. In this battle scene of the Zulu War, a small, all-white band of British soldiers fight off vast, indistinct, and darkened African warriors on the horizon. The artist was praised in Britain for not including images of Africans. As one critic noted, she omitted "such an unsavory adjunct" (Honour, 1988, p. 288).
Not all Romantic artists or nineteenth-century painters portrayed non-Europeans in a condescending manner that "explained" European superiority or justified European imperialism and dominance (a tendency that much later came to be called Orientalism). Théodore Géricault (1791–1824) in his masterpiece Raft of the Medusa (1819) depicts the survival and deaths of a small group of shipwrecked passengers seemingly abandoned on a raft. Géricault froze the moment when the survivors first sighted the ship that would rescue them. The dead and hopeless victims of the tragedy were placed at the bottom of the composition. The central and strongest figure in the painting, a black man, rises up to signal the ship. The usual symbol of oppression and hopelessness, a black body, in this painting reverses expected roles and becomes a striking representation of hope and salvation.
In 1832 Géricault's younger friend, Delacroix, journeyed to Morocco as part of a diplomatic mission. France's near-Orient captivated Delacroix. "I am quite overwhelmed by what I have seen," wrote Delacroix from Tangier. "I am like a man dreaming, who sees things he is afraid to see escape him." The women of Morocco, he continued, "are pearls of Eden" (quoted in Benton and DiYanni, 1998, vol. 2, p. 263). Two years later, the artist unveiled The Women of Algiers (1834), which contemporaries and later critics praised for its authenticity and scrupulous attention to North African living conditions, dress, customs, and physiognomy. Of course, no work of art, not even photographs, are truly transparent, objective, or "true." Although Delacroix was sympathetic to his Algerian subjects, contemporaries often brought their own judgments of Muslim cultures to this painting. These women of a harem, it was repeated time and again, were lazy, arrogant, ignorant, insipid, unclean, and, noted Alexandre Decamps (1803–1860), "fattened for pleasure" (quoted in Porterfield, 1998, p. 135).
Delacroix's painting Arab Cavalry Practicing a Charge (1832) reversed the usual image Europeans were given of non-European warriors. In this picture the artist shows a line of orderly and magnificent Arab horsemen shooting rifles at a gallop. This painting is Romanticism at its best: Delacroix offered the viewer an opportunity to share with him an intensely exciting, unrestrained, and romantic moment.
In the nineteenth century, the noted English art critic John Ruskin (1819–1900) opined that Indians could "not produce any noble art, only a savage or grotesque form of it" (quoted in MacKenzie 1996, p. 311). More than a century earlier, one of court painters of the Chinese emperor Kangxi (1662–1722) noted that he admired European craftsmanship but concluded, "foreign painting cannot be called art." For Europeans, this standoff began to change in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Japanese art, particularly landscape painting and woodblock printing, became recognized and admired by the 1860s. The artist-printer Hokusai Katsushika (1760–1849) created The Great Wave off Kanagawa (ca. 1831), a print that became one of the most popular and well-known images representing Japan and the Japanese aesthetic. His popular series of prints called Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (1858) was part of the impetus that started the Western craze for japanoiserie in the last part of the century.
Some of the paintings of Edgar Degas (1834–1917), such as Ballet Rehearsal (Adagio) (1876) and The Morning Bath (1883), reflect his interest in eighteenth-century Japanese prints. The American painter Mary Cassatt (1845–1926), who joined the European impressionists and also studied Japanese prints, assimilated both of these influences. Her painting The Bath (1891), with its simplified form and flat composition, clearly reflects more than a flirtation with Japanese aesthetics. Japanese prints "were the first definitive non-European influence on European pictorial design" (Gardner et al. 1996, p. 988).
Also near the end of the century, the French painter Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) abandoned the corruption of European civilization and the illusion (as he saw it) of reproducing the world in art. "Civilization," he once famously pronounced, "is what makes you sick" (quoted in Gardner et al. 1991, p. 939). In the French South Pacific colony of Tahiti, Gauguin produced sixtysix paintings during his first two years. One of these, Manao Tupapao (The Spirit Watches Over Her) (1892), depicts his Tahitian lover terrified one night by the spirits of the dead ("the Tupapao"). Although he drew upon the European tradition of the reclining nude in this picture, this and other paintings from Tahiti reflect Tahiti's brilliant colors, native motifs, and "primitive" life. The renewal of Western art and civilization, he argued, had to come from "the Primitives."
One artist who followed this advice was Pablo Picasso (1881–1974). Inspired by the ancient Iberian sculpture and African masks he had seen at a Paris exhibition, his famous Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), a group portrait of five nudes, introduced Europeans to cubism and a strong dose of primitivism. The curvy bodies of the women in this painting are distorted and disjointed and broken into angular pieces in a way that came to define cubism. The faces of the three figures on the left were influenced by the ancient sculptures Picasso found in the Louvre in Paris. More interesting and shocking are the two faces on the right, which are elongated, almond-shaped grotesqueries, unmistakably primitive and suggestive of masks.
In sculpture, Henry Moore (1898–1986) also came to reveal his appreciation and embrace of the nonWestern and "primitive" art he discovered in the British Museum in London. His Reclining Figure (1929) departed from a long Western tradition by presenting a figure that looked more like an ancient native "Earth Mother" than a well-proportioned classical or Renaissance marble.
As the century proceeded, Western artists in the former colonies of Europe increasingly drew upon the forms, concepts, motifs, colors, and more of nonWestern art. In the 1920s, the Algonquin School of Canadian landscape painters broke away from the nineteenth-century Canadian landscape tradition that produced large and impressive paintings emphasizing the grandeur of the North American mountains, lakes, and forests. October on the North Shore, Lake Superior (1927), a painting by Arthur Lismer (1885–1969), translates this corner of Canadian wilderness into a more impressionist jumble that also reflects the gradations and tones, as well as the cool abstractionism, of Japanese prints.
Mexican painters, many of whom studied in Spain, France, and Italy, assimilated the styles and traditions of the grand masters, the impressionists, the expressionists, and the cubists, as well as that of the ancient and contemporary native cultures of Mexico. The internationally admired muralists of the 1920s and 1930s, particularly Diego Rivera (1886–1957), José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949), and David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896–1974), produced a "revolutionary" public art that was populist and didactic. These artists, known as the Tres Grandes (the Three Greats), and others of this generation were inspired and influenced by the ancient murals and sculptures of Teotihuacán, the Maya, the Aztecs, and others. Rivera's fresco Carnival in Huexotzingo (1936) presented a contemporary Mexican carnival in the way ancient painters pictured kings, priests, and warriors. "The composition, the harmony of this developing art recapture something of the spatial definitions of ancient Mexican sculpture," wrote Agustín Velázquez Chávez in 1937, "together with the baroque of the Churrigueresque altars" (p. 167). (The Churrigueresque style of the Spanish Baroque refers to particular architectural elements in late seventeenth-century Mexican churches and, more generally, to riotous decorations of all spaces with all manner of ornamental forms.)
As in Mexico, artists in the former British colonies around the world, the dominions, sought to create unique national arts that promoted national identity by connecting with the past, both colonial and native, and with the different peoples and cultures of the present. "The artists of the Dominions," writes MacKenzie, "began to draw upon the motifs, pigments, and spiritual concepts of indigenous art. By the middle of the twentieth century, this fusing of local symbols with European techniques had become standard throughout the territories of white settlement" (1996, p. 315).
In 1989 an exhibition in Paris called Magiciens de la terre (Magicians of the Earth), opened as "the first worldwide exhibition of contemporary art." This show presented works by one hundred artists, fifty from Europe and America, and fifty from Native America, Australia, Africa, and Asia. One of the most interesting and revealing commonalities revealed in the contemporary "Western" and "indigenous" artworks in this exhibition is the practice of abstraction. In one room, Aboriginal artists from the community of Yuendumu in Australia created a sand painting that represents the "dreams" or marks of ancestral beings upon the places and landscapes they visited or inhabited. Above the abstract sandpainted circles, waves, and lines is a work by the English artist Richard Long (b. 1945), Red Earth Circle. Long's large "messy" circle on a black background was made of mud collected on a visit to the community that created the sand painting. Who has most influenced whom? "Successful and dominant countries impose their laws and styles on other countries," writes JeanHubert Martin, "but they also borrow from them and so become permeated by other ways of life" (Benton and DiYanni, 1998, vol. 2, p. 487).
see also Divide and Rule: The Legacy of Roman Imperialism; Empire, British; Empire, Dutch; Empire, French; Empire, Italian; Empire, Japanese; Empire, Ottoman; Empire, Portuguese.
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