De-Personifying Collaert's Four Continents: European descriptions of continental diversity, 1585-1625

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Adriaen Collaert's personifications of the four continents are typical examples of how continents and their respective cultures were represented in the art and literature of Europe in the early-modern period. For example, Asia is the exotic double to Europe, possessing an ‘otherness’ upon which European identity has been juxtaposed. Such personifications of continents and broader tropes of ‘the other’ and ‘the exotic’ have greatly influenced the historiography of the idea of Europe. However, the creation of art and literature characterised by these tropes reflects only part of the European understanding of the wider world. This article will explore how travellers – such as missionaries, merchants and ambassadors – in Europe's encounters with non-European societies presented a complex picture of the world sought to offer practical guidance and knowledge. How travellers’ accounts and personifications interacted is important for understanding the European experience of other continents. In considering how travellers presented their knowledge of continents, it is possible to analyse both how early-modern Europeans viewed other continents and question how useful artistic representation of ‘other’ continents are for understanding how they viewed their own.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)817-835
JournalEuropean Review of History/Revue Europeene d'Histoire
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2014


  • comparative history
  • merchants
  • exotic
  • cultural encounter
  • idea of europe
  • othering


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