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Visions of Savage Paradise

Visions of Savage Paradise: Albert Eckhout, Court Painter in Colonial Dutch Brazil

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Visions of Savage Paradise
    Book Description:

    Visions of Savage Paradise is the first major book-length study of the Dutch artist Albert Eckhout to be published since 1938. This book, which draws extensively on the author's doctoral dissertation, examines the fascinating works of art produced by Eckhout while he was court painter in Dutch Brazil to the German count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen. Johan Maurits, who was colonial governor from 1637-1644 of the Dutch West India Company's Brazilian colony, supported the study and representation of natural history as part of a program to document the different peoples and natural resources present in the colony. As part of this project, Eckhout created life-size paintings of Amerindians, Africans, and peoples of mixed "racial" background for display in Vrijburg, the governor's palace. He also made still-life paintings and hundreds of chalk sketches and oil studies on paper of the "savage"peoples, plants, and animals of his new Brazilian home. In this study, the author provides a careful analysis of these works of art, framing them with a discussion of contemporary artistic practices in the Dutch Republic. Nonetheless, the primary focus of this book is the function of these works within their original colonial context. As the author makes clear, the creation, use, and display of the Brazilian paintings and drawings by Albert Eckhout strengthened Johan Maurits's position as a colonial and cultural leader. This work will not only be of interest to students and scholars of seventeenth-century Dutch art, but it will also be an important resource for those interested in visual anthropology and the history of the WIC.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0554-8
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-5)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 6-8)
    (pp. 9-9)
    (pp. 11-25)

    WHAT WERE ALBERT ECKHOUT’S FIRST IMPRESSIONS of colonial Dutch Brazil when he landed in the port city of Recife on 23 January 1637? One can imagine that after three dull and sometimes dangerous months at sea, he was grateful to reach dry land and finally begin his work as a painter of portraits, still lifes, and natural curiosities for the colony’s new governor general, the German count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen. A young, unknown painter from Groningen, a northern province of the Dutch Republic, and most recently an inhabitant of Amsterdam, Eckhout had never before travelled outside the borders of...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Albert Eckhout (ca. 1607-1665/6) Portrait and Still-life Painter at Johan Maurits’s Brazilian Court
    (pp. 27-45)

    THE DUTCH PAINTER AND GRONINGEN NATIVE ALBERT ECKHOUT was Count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen’s primary court artist in Dutch Brazil, where he produced still lifes, portraits, and images of natural curiosities. Despite Eckhout’s central role in Mauritsstad, evidence of his activities is limited to a few documents, his drawings, and his signed, dated paintings. We do not know how or why he was chosen to accompany the Count to Brazil, and we lack any kind of definitive information on his training. There is no contract for his service with Johan Maurits; he left no letters behind; he is mentioned only...

  6. CHAPTER 2 ‘To Reproduce Nature Itself as Perfectly as Possible’ The Brazilian Natural History Drawings of Albert Eckhout
    (pp. 47-71)

    BETWEEN 1637 AND 1644, ARTISTS AT JOHAN MAURITS’S Brazilian court created hundreds of unsigned natural history drawings and oil studies on paper, many of which may now be found in the collection of the Jagiellon University Library in Kraków. In Brazil, these drawings recorded the contents of the Count’s menagerie, botanic gardens, and his cabinet of curiosities, as well as the natural resources around Mauritsstad, providing a corpus of visual material for both scientific study and artistic inspiration. In Europe, the drawings and oil studies were prized not only for their rarity and exotic subject matter, but also for their...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Cannibalizing America From the Ethnographic Impulse to the Ethnographic Portrait
    (pp. 73-93)

    THE TEXT ABOVE, WHICH DRAWS HEAVILY ON AMERIGO VESPUCCI’S highly influential pamphletMundus Novus(The New World, 1504), accompanies one of the earliest European representations of indigenous Americans, often identified as the Tupinamba of Brazil (fig. 24).² I have chosen to begin my discussion of the ‘ethnographic impulse’ in the visual arts with this broadsheet, because in spite of the fact that both the image and its accompanying description are highly inaccurate by modern anthropological standards, the illustrator has 1) made an attempt to represent ‘authentic’ dress and artifacts and 2) depicted the Indians engaged in activities considered culturally specific....

  8. CHAPTER 4 Between the Savage and the Civilized Eckhout’s Brasilianen and Tapuyas
    (pp. 95-129)

    THE BEST-KNOWN IMAGES IN ALBERT ECKHOUT’S BRAZILIAN oeuvre are his paintings and drawings of Indians, representations that have been praised by some for ‘accuracy’ and damned by others for ‘sensational’ details.¹ These representations include five large-scale paintings, namely a dance scene and four life-size ethnographic portraits, and ten chalk figure studies (plates 1-5; figs.14; 36-38).² These images fall into two categories: carefully constructed studio works and drawings after life. As discussed in the conclusion to this book, Johan Maurits presented the ethnographic portraits by Eckhout to the king of Denmark in 1654. In a 1679 letter to the Danish court,...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Black, Brown, and Yellow Eckhout’s Paintings of Africans, Mestizos, and Mulattos
    (pp. 131-169)

    THE COLONIZATION OF PARTS OF AFRICA, ASIA, AND THE AMERICAS by various European nations during the early modern period had many consequences for the indigenous populations, not least of which was the birth of children to non-European women and European men. A particularly complicated situation developed in the Americas where Europeans, Africans, and indigenous peoples engaged in interracial sexual activity. Enslaved African women were in no position to deny their bodies to men of the ruling white minority, and European colonists, soldiers, and traders had actively pursued sexual relations with indigenous women (many of whom were also enslaved) from the...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Eckhout’s Paintings Location and Interpretation
    (pp. 171-200)

    ECKHOUT’S SURVIVING PAINTINGS INCLUDE TWELVE STILL lifes, eight ethnographic portraits, and one painting of dancingTapuyas, all of which are currently in the collection of the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen. They arrived as a group in Denmark in 1654 as part of a gift of twenty-six paintings made by Johan Maurits to his cousin, King Frederik III of Denmark. Despite the growing literature on Eckhout, there has been surprisingly little discussion about the original venue for these paintings or even whether or not they constituted a single or multiple decorative cycles. In this chapter I will address these important subjects and...

    (pp. 201-207)

    AS GOVERNOR OF DUTCH BRAZIL FROM 1637 TO 1644, THE GERMAN count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen created a princely domain that was modeled on the courts of his European contemporaries but was inevitably influenced by its location in the New World. He founded Mauritsstad, a fine new capital for the colony, and undertook other monumental projects, including the construction of bridges and the creation of Vrijburg, his new governor’s palace. Archeologists have been unable to pinpoint the exact location of Vrijburg, and little else remains of this failed colonial experiment, with the notable exception of a fascinating corpus of drawings...

    (pp. 208-225)
  13. APPENDIX A Chronological Overview of Albert Eckhout’s Life
    (pp. 226-227)
  14. APPENDIX B Works of Art by Albert Eckhout
    (pp. 228-230)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 231-265)
    (pp. 266-278)
    (pp. 279-281)
    (pp. 282-285)
    (pp. 286-288)