20 Kasım 2013 Çarşamba

Quotation: Princeton University A World History of The World, "Visual Portrayals of Spanish Contact with Native Americans"

For this week's post, we were asked to look at a series of images of the Spanish colonization of the Americas. They were all painted by Theodor de Bry (who never himself left Europe). Thus, they reflect ideas and preconceptions circulating in the 1590s in Europe. While the portrayals are mixed (you can find them below), this blog post will make the argument that while the artist attempted to criticize the Spanish, the impression of civilization vs. barbarity nevertheless makes the Indians appear uncivil. Despite his intentions and mixed messages, the artist portrays the Indians as barbaric, as unable to be governed or converted.

At the time there was confusion in Europe about whether the Native Americans were noble savages or just savages. As we see in the work of Bartolomé de las Casas, the Spaniards claimed their mission was religiously focused. They wanted to convert these “noble” savages, or people who they believed were susceptible to conversion. However, The War of Conquest makes it obvious that they had ulterior motives. These images (2 and 3 especially) do show the Spanish and their cruelty, but the way the Indians are presented throughout points to de Bry’s implicit assumption that they were irredeemable savages.

First, they are depicted as monster-like creatures, mostly naked with wrinkles and balding heads. Secondly, they often appear to be the aggressor. Not only attacking the Spaniards, but savagely beating/torturing them in groups. (Images 5 + 6) The third constant is the group aspect. The natives appear solely in groups. This shows that they exist as one person; meaning, that if one is savage, than they all are. It also shows their pack mentality, a very animalistic feature, often associated with violence and viciousness.

The Spaniards, while “doing bad things” in a few paintings, remain well dressed and often positions of weakness. They appear noble and civilized, even while brutalizing the “animals.” The images don’t even show the Spaniards committing these acts, rather they show the after effects (2 and 3) or another agent (the dogs) harming the Indians, as in Image 7.

The artist, in an attempt to criticize the Spanish, is trapped in a European mentality that shows the Spanish as more in control and civilized and the Indians in need on control. Whether they are being brutal or not, the images do not show the Indians as capable of self-government.

IMAGES (These date from 1594 and are the work of Theodor de Bry)

Image 1: "Columbus, as he first arrives in India, is received by the inhabitants and honored with the bestowing of many gifts."

Image 2: "Burning of the Indians."

Image 3: "Atrocities of Petrus de Calyce Against the Indians"

Image 4: "Columbus Punishes Rebellious Spaniards"

Image 5: "The Indians, to Satisfy their Wickedness, Pour Molten Gold into the Mouths of the Spaniards."

Image 6: "Spaniards and monks butchered by the Indians."

Image 7: "Valboa throws some Indians, who had committed the terrible sin of sodomy, to the dogs to be torn apart."

Image 8: "Discovery of the Magellan Sea"


This is the movie “The Mission” and is a good example of the conflict between religion and economics in the New World.

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