Allegory of America, from "The Four Continents"

After Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder Flemish
Publisher Philips Galle Netherlandish

Not on view

Marcus Gheeraerts likely trained with the Brussels painter Bernard van Orley; and, after his death, in Antwerp with the prolific printmaker and publisher Hieronymus Cock. Gheeraerts produced his own etchings as well as hundreds of drawings for engravings, which were executed by some of the most well-known Flemish artists of the time. His connections to these printers and publishing houses—Cock, Sadeler, Galle, de Jode—remained strong even while he was in exile in London between approximately 1567-77.

This Allegory of America is part of a series of engravings of the four continents after drawings by Gheeraerts. European artists from the Renaissance onwards represented the known world through allegorical figures derived from antiquity. They often took the form of clothed or naked women and were used in ephemeral works made for triumphal entries and pageants, in maps, coins, prints, and the decorative arts. The representations were eventually standardized in the Iconologia by the Italian Cesare Ripa (1593; illustrated in 1603), and supplemented by contemporary travel accounts. In his representations of the Continents, Gheeraerts surrounded the allegories -- sexualized young women -- with the symbols and attributes that the artists and the viewers associated with each continent—in some cases the commodities to be traded and resources to be exploited. These images, steeped in a white Christian and male Eurocentrism, reinforced ideas of the self and the other that characterized the era.

In this engraving and following in the tradition of allegory, America is shown as a naked woman wearing a feather headdress and carrying a club. She is surrounded by parrots and other tropical birds, a goat, and perhaps a civet—which is also found in Gheeraerts depiction of A Giraffe, Chameleon, Civet and Antelope, from the engraved series Quadrupeds (Animalium Quadrupedum, ca. 1597). In his representation of America, Gheeraerts also cleverly mixes allegory with ethnography. In the lower corners, rather than figures of soldiers as seen in the other prints from the series, Gheeraerts portrays an Inuit man, woman and child (thought to be named Kalicho, Arnaq and Nutaaq), who were forcibly brought to England in 1576 from the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada by the explorer Martin Frobisher. Gheeraerts was in London during this period and could have seen the Inuits in person. They were also the subject of paintings, drawings and woodcuts by English, Dutch and German artists, such as Lucas de Heere, a close acquaintance of Gheeraerts.

Allegory of America, from "The Four Continents", After Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder (Flemish, Bruges ca. 1520–ca. 1590 London (?) (active England)), Engraving

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.