Monday, May 22, 2017

1600s Depictions of Native Americans - More Fantasy than Fact

Jacob van Meurs from Arnoldus Montanus (1625-1683) De Nieuwe en Onbekende Weereld  (The New and Unknown World) 1671

Frontispiece made by Jacob van Meurs, a Dutch printmaker, for Arnoldus Montanus’ 1671 De Nieuwe en Onbekende Weereld: of Beschryving van America en 't Zuid-Land, Vervaetende d'Oorsprong der Americaenen en Zuid-landers, gedenkwaerdige togten derwaerds, Gelegendheid Der vaste Kusten, Eilanden, Steden, Sterkten, Dorpen, Tempels, Bergen, Fonteinen, Stroomen, Huisen, de natuur van Beesten, Boomen, Planten en vreemde Gewasschen, Gods dienst en Zeden, Wonderlijke Voorvallen, Vereeuwde en Nieuwe Oorlogen: Verciert met Af-beeldsels na 't leven in America gemaekt, en beschreeven door Arnoldus Montanus, or The New & Unknown World: or Description of America & the Southland, Containing the Origin of the Americans & South-landers, remarkable voyages thither, Quality of the Shores, Islands, Cities, Fortresses, Towns, Temples, Mountains, Sources, Rivers, Houses, the nature of Beasts, Trees, Plants & foreign Crops, Religion & Manners, Miraculous Occurrences, Old & New Wars: Adorned with Illustrations drawn from the life in America, & described by Arnoldus Montanus. Frontispiece seems to be  a representation of the Americas as a location of plentiful resources where Europeans can take part in expanding trading networks & accumulating wealth. Rather than depicting differences between the various regions of the New World, this frontispiece instead presents a unified “America.” Rather than being portrayed in an inland environment separated from European influence, the figures are shown at a busy port set before a large & menacing European fort, with canons poking through the windows. Despite the fearsome & strange people & animals in the foreground, the immense fort in the background reinforces the European’s stable position & ability to maintain order in the region. In the distant background, beyond the fort, a fleet of European ships seems to be approaching the shore, revealing that European & American economic & cultural exchange will continue.

For most of the 1600s & 1700s, few first-hand images of North American Indiginous People are known to have been created. Lacking contemporary documentation, European publishers often used illustrations that were imagined by local artists. European artists, who had seldom traveled farther than their easels, often were hired to illustrate written accounts of events in the New World without a realistic clue about how people actually lived & looked. And, so, they had to rely on European fantasy & generic landscapes to create images of America's Indiginous Peoples. For these representations, which tend to be exotic, the artists borrowed indiscriminately, mixing invented & actual details & interchanging characteristics of native groups from both American continents & from Africa.

In the 1670 edition of John Ogilby’s America, many images of Native Americans are based on the work of Arnoldus Montanus. However, at its time, the publication offered the most complete cartographic records to date of North & South America & was the most accurate compendium available of the New World. In 1671 the Amsterdam printer Jacob Meurs published De nieuwe en onbekende weereld; of Beschryving van america en't zuid-land, or America, by Arnoldus Montanus, a compilation in Dutch of historical accounts from North & South America. Montanus was a Jesuit & seemed to seek illustrations emphasizing the non-Christian, heathen character of Native American religion.