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Representations of the Continents in the Early Modern World

Posted By Louise Arizzoli, Thursday, April 28, 2016

European artists and writers visualized the known world through personifications holding attributes related to each continent. After the discovery of America, America was added to the figures of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Allegories developed, reviving the Greek habit to depict abstract concepts in the human form. During the sixteenth century, continent personifications started to appear in pageants, atlases and prints, and became a very popular iconographical motif throughout Europe in all artistic media. These figures clearly show the way Europeans perceived the rest of the world - often characterized as a stereotypical Other – and were generally designed to express Europe’s belief of its own superiority, as well as its quest for a newer global identity.

 We are welcoming papers for a session at the Renaissance Society of America, Chicago, 30 March-1 April 2017, dealing broadly with visual and literary representations of the continents in the early modern world, in all media and from different regions of Europe. We would also welcome presentations on ancient and medieval sources for the continents’ iconography--the themes of Europa and the Bull, Africa with elephant tusk headdress, Asia with incense burner, and the Adoration of the Magi; transformations in America from cannibalistic to civilized; as well as travel accounts, early modern maps, and literary descriptions of the known and unknown continents.

Please send proposals to Louise Arizzoli ( and Maryanne Horowitz ( Include in your proposal: name and affiliation, paper title (max. 15 words), abstract (max. 150 words), and a brief CV (max. 300 words; in ordinary CV format).

Email proposals as soon as possible, but no later than May 25, 2016.

Applicants will hear whether paper proposal fits in this group submission by Sat. 4 June, for the RSA submission deadline of Tues. 7 June 2016.

Tags:  Literature; Art History; Allegories; Continents; M 

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