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Stefano Della Bella

Playing Card Prints Featuring Nations of the World

Italy (c. 1640s)

From Jeu de la géographie

Featured here are Brazil, Mexico, Chile, China, Armenia, Sumatra, Mauritania, The Barbary Coast, Numidia, and Canada.

Nations or continents were often personified this way in European art from the 1600s and 1700s, evolved from the trend of “Allegories of the Continents" and costume design books that were already popular. Over time, these depictions changed from viewing "far away lands" almost from a fantasy perspective during the Medieval Era, to those like the above which practically seem like ads for mail-order brides.

The representation of the these geographical regions as women, frequently partially nude and definitely sexualized, reflect how these regions were viewed in the European imagination-ripe for “conquer”. Many European artists in the 1600s and 1700s were commissioned to travel to various colonized nations and create works featuring the people, plants, animals, and attributes of the region in order to drum up enthusiasm, and more importantly, funding, for these “projects” overseas from the wealthy elite of Europe.

Female bodies being used to further these aims and promote the idea that these nations were full of sexually available women and opportunities to make unheard-of amounts of money can also be seen in the works of Albert Eckhout and his portraits of the peoples of Brazil. The peoples of Africa and the Americas were often also depicted as degenerate either morally or culturally, in attempts to also elicit the fervor of missionaries and other colonizing forces.

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