This drawing is preparatory for the first engraved plate in the series Nova Reperta, or New Inventions of Modern Times. The series was designed by the Medici court artist Johannes Stradanus (Giovanni Stradano), and is dedicated to the Florentine statesman, poet and scholar, Luigi Alamanni, with whom he often collaborated. Stradanus also created allegorical paintings, ephemera and cartography as Medici propaganda. Even though the Medici were not involved in the colonization of the Americas, and they themselves were subsumed under the sovereignty of Spain, Grand Duke Ferdinando sought to strengthen cultural and economic ties with the New World during his reign (1587-1609).
The drawing shows the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci encountering the Americas. Here, Vespucci carries a staff with a crucifix at its pinnacle and a banner of the Southern Cross. He also holds a brass mariner's astrolabe, which helped him navigate the seas to find new lands to explore and people to exploit on behalf of Spain and Portugal. Vespucci undertook several expeditions to South and Central America between 1497 and 1504, spurred by Christopher Columbus’s earlier journey. In this drawing, Vespucci is shown naming the allegorical figure America, a feminized version of his own name.
The representation of the Four Continents—America, Africa, Asia and Europe—as female allegorical figures with their so-called attributes has a long history in texts and images. The tradition was standardized in the Iconologia by Cesare Ripa (1593; illustrated in 1603) and supplemented by contemporary travel accounts. Since such allegories were almost exclusively the work of white male European artists, they represent a biased point of view and promote a Christian Eurocentric sense of self that epitomizes formative habits of racial and gender stereotyping.
Stradanus presents America as a young woman gesturing towards Vespucci from her hammock. She wears only a feathered headdress and skirt, her club abandoned against the tree at the right, where an anteater is shown feasting. Set behind her in the rolling landscape is a horse and a bear and a scene of cannibalism. Stradanus also cleverly mixes a traditional allegorical image with ethnographic details. The hammock on which America sits, the feather-work, and her club were items that Stradanus would have known from the Medici collections. Furthermore, on the verso of the drawing, an inscription by Stradanus explains that he used Pietro Maffei’s recently published History of Indies (Historiarum Indicarum, 1588) as his source for the flora and fauna native to the Americas.
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Title:Allegory of America
Artist:Jan van der Straet, called Stradanus (Netherlandish, Bruges 1523–1605 Florence)
Medium:Pen and brown ink, brown wash, heightened with white, over black chalk. Incised
Dimensions:Overall: 7 1/2 x 10 9/16in. (19 x 26.9cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Estate of James Hazen Hyde, 1959
Preparatory drawing for the Allegory of America, for New Inventions of Modern Times (Nova Reperta), plate 1 of 19
Signature: At lower right, inscribed "ioannes stradanus / faciebat" in pen and brown ink
Inscription: At center of recto "AMERICA" (with the letters backwards) in pen and brown ink; at lower center, inscribed "AMERICUSVESPUCIUS / Florentinus . 1497." in pen and brown ink; at upper left, in the tree above the sloth, inscribed "Pigritia"; at left above the running animal, inscribed "curigon" in pen and brown ink; to the left of America's elbow, inscribed "Anta" in pen and brown ink; at left above the pinapples, inscribed "Ananazas" in pen and brown ink; at lower left, below anteater, inscribed "Tamandoa" in pen and brown ink.
Verso: at upper left, inscribed "Joannes Stradanus f." in pen and brown ink; at center, inscribed "Americen Americus retexit, et / semel vocavit, inde semper excitam, / Tua sectus orbis nomina ducet. Hor. us Ode 17 lb. 3. / parque tuum terrae tertia nonem habet. Ovidus Fastores" in pen and brown ink; at upper right, inscribed "Omdat ut ock werstaen zet van et ghedierte ghetheckent / Tamandoa es groet gheleck in scaep hest breede woeten / om den mieren te crabben bij den andren en hest in lang(e) / smalle langhe splete waer de mont in langhe tongh(e) / om de mieren op te lecken in ronde oerren. cergon es in ghedierte van de groete ghleck in woes / hachter gheleck in scominkel hest tuee sacken onder aer / buck daer si aer kinderen in dracht al sughende ghet (?) Anta gheleck in eesel of klene mulle corte stert ro(onde) / hoerren de onder leppe lanck ront. Pigritia groet gheleck wos clemt op de boeme de woeten / winghers kan van aer groeten buck in 15. daghen gh(aen) / in zoe warre als sen met in sten woerpen zoude. Vide Petrum Mafeum Bergomatem Jesuitum / Historiarum Indicarum tome 2 es."; at bottom right, inscribed "Do Christophoro Colombo." in pen and brown ink; at lower left, inscribed "59.654.1 / 1974.205"
Marking: Verso: at lower right, the collector's mark of William A. Baillie-Grohman (Lugt 370)
William A. Baillie-Grohman; by descent to Mrs. William A. Baillie-Grohman; her sale, Sotheby's, London, May 14, 1923, lot 155Purchased by Hyde; James Hazen Hyde (American)
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Diamond Jubilee Exhibition, Masterpieces of Drawing," November 4, 1950–February 11, 1951.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," May 6–July 28, 1996.
Groeninge Museum. "Stradanus (1523–1607) Court Artist of the Medici," October 9, 2008–January 4, 2009.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," July 19–October 24, 2016.
San Marino, Calif. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. "Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin," September 16, 2017–January 8, 2018.
A. Thompson A Print Collection: illustrating the Field Sports of Europe, Part I in The Connoisseur: An Illustrated Magazine for Collectors. vol. 44, London, January - April, 1916, p. 19.
William A. Baillie-Grohman "A drawing of Amerigo Vespucci Taking Possession of America" The Connoisseur: An Illustrated Magazine for Collectors. vol. 55, London, Sept.-Dec., 1919, pp. 41-42, ill.
William A. Baillie-Grohman Sport in Art: An iconography of sport during four hundred years from the beginning of the fifteenth to the end of the eighteenth centuries. London, , fig. no. 85, pp. 138-145.
Sotheby's, London Catalogue of the Extensive Collection of Old Engravings, Drawings & Books relating to Sport, formed by the late W. A. Baillie-Grohman of Schloss Matzen, Brixlegg, Tyrol. May 14, 1923, cat. no. 155.
Bibliothèque nationale Quatre Siècles de Colonisation Françaises. Paris, 1931, cat. no. 417.
Masterpieces of Drawing: Diamond Jubilee Exhibition Philadelphia Museum of Art, November 4, 1950–February 11, 1951. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1950, cat. no. 44, ill.
Michel Benisovich "The drawings of Stradanus (Jan van der Straeten) in the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration, New York." Art Bulletin. vol. 38, 1956, p. 250.
Gunther Thiem "Studien zu Jan van der Straet, gennant Stradanus." Mitteilungen der Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz. vol. 8, Florence, 1958, pp. 91-92.
Clare Le Corbeiller "Miss America and her Sisters: Personifications of the Four Parts of the World." in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 19, New York, 1961, fig. no. 1, pp. 210-211, ill.
Dirck Barendsz. 1534-1592. Amsterdam, 1970, fig. no. 146, pp. 88-89, ill.
A. B. McGinty Stradanus (Jan van der Straet) his role in the visual communication of Renaissance discoveries, technologies and values. Ann Arbor, 1974, p. 21.
Suzanne Boorsch Images of the New World. Exh. cat., MMA, July 16-September 14. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1975, cat. no. 14, ill.
Hugh Honour The European Vision of America. Exh. cat. Cleveland, 1975, cat. no. 86, ill.
Federica Ambrosini "Rappresentanzioni allegoriche dell'America nel Veneto del Cinque e Seicento." Artibus et Historiae. vol. 2, 1980, fig. no. 11, pp. 71-72, ill.
G. J. van der Sman Cristofero Colombo e l'apertura degli spazi. Exh. cat. Genoa, 1992, pp. 1001-1004.
Alessandra Baroni Vannucci Jan van der Straet detto Giovanni Stradano: flandrus pictor et inventor. Milan, 1997, cat. no. 461, fig. no. 461, pp. 282-283, 397, ill.
Memlingmuseum, Maryan W. Ainsworth De Hans Memling à Pierre Pourbus. Exh. cat. Edited by Maximiliaan P. J. Martens, Bruges, Aug 15, 1998-Dec 6, 1998, cat. no. 169, fig. no. 169, ill.
Alessandra Baroni Vannucci, Manfred Sellink Stradanus 1523-1605: Court Artist of the Medici. Oostkamp, Belgium, 2012, cat. no. 100, ill.
Lia Markey "Stradano's Allegorical Invention of the Americas in Late Sixteenth-Century Florence" Renaissance Quarterly. 65, 2,. Chicago, Summer 2012, ill.
Clare Vincent, J.H. Leopold, Elizabeth Sullivan, Yale University Press European Clocks and Watches in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2015, fig. no. 55, p. 230, ill.
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