Empires of Vision: A Reader

Empires of Vision: A Reader

by Martin Jay (Editor)

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Empires of Vision brings together pieces by some of the most influential scholars working at the intersection of visual culture studies and the history of European imperialism. The essays and excerpts focus on the paintings, maps, geographical surveys, postcards, photographs, and other media that comprise the visual milieu of colonization, struggles for decolonization, and the lingering effects of empire. Taken together, they demonstrate that an appreciation of the role of visual experience is necessary for understanding the functioning of hegemonic imperial power and the ways that the colonized subjects spoke, and looked, back at their imperial rulers. Empires of Vision also makes a vital point about the complexity of image culture in the modern world: We must comprehend how regimes of visuality emerged globally, not only in the metropole but also in relation to the putative margins of a world that increasingly came to question the very distinction between center and periphery.

Contributors. Jordanna Bailkin, Roger Benjamin, Daniela Bleichmar, Zeynep Çelik, David Ciarlo, Natasha Eaton, Simon Gikandi, Serge Gruzinski, James L. Hevia, Martin Jay, Brian Larkin, Olu Oguibe, Ricardo Padrón, Christopher Pinney, Sumathi Ramaswamy, Benjamin Schmidt, Terry Smith, Robert Stam, Eric A. Stein, Nicholas Thomas, Krista A. Thompson

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822354482
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 03/14/2014
Series: Objects/Histories Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 686
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Martin Jay is Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of many books, including Downcast Eyes, The Dialectical Imagination, and Marxism and Totality.

Sumathi Ramaswamy is Professor of History at Duke University. She is the author of The Goddess and the Nation, also published by Duke University Press; The Lost Land of Lemuria, and Passions of the Tongue.

Read an Excerpt

Empires of Vision


By Martin Jay, Sumathi Ramaswamy

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2014 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-5448-2


The Walls of Images

Serge Gruzinski

The Image from Flanders

What was the first visual imprinting the Indians received? The earliest images to land on Mexican soil were canvases and—more influential—sculptures; one can get an idea of them by looking at fifteenth-century Castilian, Aragonian, and Andalusian works and the few examples preserved in Mexico. For example, there was the Virgin of the Antigua, deposited in the Cathedral of Mexico City. It was the Flemish experience of the image as much as Iberian art—and very little that of the Italian quattrocento—that surfaced at the beginning of this adventure: Ghent as much as Seville, and much more so than Florence or Venice. Flemish influences crossed through the Spanish Gothic during the entire fifteenth century, and with them the idea that the figurative and empirical orders ran closely together and were governed by the same laws. Most of the first printers established on the Iberian peninsula were of Germanic or Flemish origins, and many engravings spread throughout Spain were copied from Nordic originals. Northern styles thus influenced sculpture, painting, illustrated books, and engraving. The saturation was such that in order to magnify the talent of the Mexican Indians, the Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas quite naturally invoked the example of the Northern painters: "They began to paint our images; they did it with as much perfection and grace as the very first masters of Flanders." Elsewhere, it was Flemish tapestry that served him as a basis for his comparison. To this artistic prestige one can add the special links that tied Castile to Aragon in the Netherlands and to Germanic Europe, since Charles V, heir to the Catholic kings, was also heir to the Habsburgs and the Dukes of Burgundy. Let us not forget that it was in the name of a ruler born in Ghent and who was the Count of Flanders that Cortés conquered faraway Mexico, just as it was through the lessons of a Fleming, Peter Crockaert, that the theologian Francisco de Vitoria assimilated Thomistic thought, and gave the School of Salamanca an unequaled glamour.

Flanders was present in Mexico in yet an even more immediate fashion. Thanks to the "favor of the Flanders greats [who] at this time led throughout the Spains"—let us understand by this the Burgundy counselors of the young emperor—Franciscans from the Ghent convent went over to America and settled in Mexico after 1523. One of them, a lay brother by the name of Peter of Ghent, was a pioneering figure of this history. He abandoned the Netherlands even as they continued to flourish. Painting prospered there under the influence of Memling, Gérard David, Hugo Van der Goes, and the epigones of the Van Eycks. The archaistic masters worked side by side with artists who were more sensitive to the Italian quattrocento experience. Bosch had been dead for seven years, and Brueghel was yet to be born when Peter left Flanders. Once arrived in Mexico, the Ghent painter opened a school in an annex of the San José de los Indios chapel, to teach arts and Western techniques. In a town only just reborn from the cinders of the Conquest, he undertook to show the natives writing, drawing, painting, and sculpture based on European models, and therefore primarily Flemish ones. Tradition says that Peter of Ghent had enough talent himself to be the author of an image of the Virgin de los Remedios kept today in the Tepepan church, southwest of Mexico City.

The missionary was accompanied by two other Flemish Franciscans: Johann Van den Auwera (Juan de Aora); and Johann Dekkers (Juan de Tecto), from Ghent himself as well, confessor of Charles V and theologian from the University of Paris. Both had apparently packed books printed in the Netherlands and in the north of Europe. Without waiting for the arrival of the Twelve in 1524—the first Franciscan contingent sent to America—this little Flemish band laid the bases for the gigantic "spiritual conquest" that the evangelization of Mexico and Central America was to become. Dekkers and Van den Auwera disappeared fairly early, but Peter of Ghent held an incomparable and magisterial sway until his death in 1572; in a half-century of uninterrupted activities his popularity and his prestige made him a rival of even the archbishop of Mexico. Despite the distance, these Flemings kept ties with their native land, and not only through letters, since it is possible that Peter the Ghent's Nahuatl Catechism may have been sent to the Netherlands to be printed in Antwerp around 1528. Later, painters from the North settled in New Spain, and it is not surprising, in 1585, that the Third Mexican Provincial Council recommended to painters the use of the treatise on sacred images by Juan de Molano, a Fleming who was born in Lille and died in Louvain.

The Bull and the Indian

For the Indians, the teaching of images immediately turned into an apprenticeship. The first native work inspired by the West is thought to have appeared in 1525: it was the copy of a vignette engraved on a papal bull representing the Virgin and Jesus. The work was so perfect that a Spaniard took it with him to Castile "in order to show it off and draw attention to it." It is remarkable that this American "premiere" had the 1525 launching of idoloclastic campaigns as a background, and that the destruction of the idols of Texcoco was contemporaneous with the unfolding, by a native hand, of the Christian image in Mexico. The simultaneity and the parallelism of these events might astonish us less if we remember the active part Peter of Ghent took in tearing down temples and idols while he was spreading the image and writing. The entire ambivalence of Westernization, its alibis, its lack of remorse, and its efficiency were incarnated through this character. The Christian image was thus literally born on the debris and ashes of the idol in Mexico.

It is equally revealing that the first image produced by a native immediately became an object of curiosity, exportation, and exposition ("cosa notable y primera"). What is more, it was followed by other works—feather mosaics, most notably—that went to richen European collections, as the zemis had thirty years earlier. From the beginning the role of the native artist was circumscribed: it consisted in reproducing a European original in the most faithful manner possible. From the outset confined to copying, Indian creativity was to restrict itself to displaying a technical ability or virtuosity that would be awarded only if it abstained from changing either form or content, that is to say, if it knew how to stay invisible: "It seemed there was no difference from the original to the copy he had made of it." The ideal conditions for native copying were thus set in 1525: they stipulated a passive reproduction and reined in Indian intervention to the utmost. On the lookout for reproducers, and not conceptualists, the conquering West rarely ever abandoned that attitude thereafter.

The natives would from then on busy themselves with scrupulously reproducing "the materials given to them," materias that were primarily engravings, for they could reach Mexico more easily than canvases or sculptures and could circulate among the Indians. The late fifteenth century was not only the age of the diffusion of printing in all of Europe, but also the rise of engraving. Mechanical reproduction opened horizons that constituted an unprecedented media revolution, comparable in scope to the spread of printed matter. It also corresponded to the discovery and colonization of the American continent, to which it offered quite opportunely the means for a conquest via the image. Even in Spain alone, almost one quarter of the incunabula Lyell counted contained wood engravings, and it was in 1480 in Seville—door to the Americas—that the first book to be illustrated in Spain was printed. The image that the Western world could reproduce massively for the first time was thus reducible to a generally monochrome expression, within which the line furnished a selective reading of reality, and space divided two principal planes with a quite rudimentary form of perspective. A Europe in black and white.

One can envision this by leafing through Peter of Ghent's catechism. The Doctrina was published in Mexico in 1553. Right from the beginning the eye is drawn to the astonishing diversity of quality and technique. Very rudimentary, even crude drawings of local provenance alternate with extremely elaborate compositions of northern (Flemish and German) inspiration: Christ's entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday or the Deposition are of an astonishingly more sophisticated rendering than the Ascension of Christ, or the Crucified Christ that looks like a hieratic icon. A Northern influence, rather than Italian or Iberian, seems to predominate throughout the illustrations. The same tonality existed in the inventory of the library of Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, where the Franciscans provided a superior education to the children of the native aristocracy. The printed books before 1530 originated primarily in Paris, Lyon, and Venice. But along with Basel, Strasbourg, Rouen, Nuremberg, and Cologne, the contingent that carried the day was that of the Northern lands, and with it, probably, the engraving from these countries. An examination of the library of the first bishop and archbishop of Mexico, the Franciscan Juan de Zumárraga, corroborates this tally: one finds books from Paris, Cologne, Basel, Antwerp, then a strong Venetian contingent, and a handful of works printed in Lyon. In any case Spain is in the minority, a Spain that was more often in the hands of German printers anyway, whose ranks featured the illustrious Crombergers of Seville.

The Northern image was thus particularly present in America, as it was in a great part of Europe. To measure its richness one has but to glance at a work belonging to the evangelizer Juan de Gaona: the second volume of the Opera minora by Denys the Carthusian. On the first page, printed in Cologne in 1532, a complex set of juxtaposed compositions are spread out in eight vignettes concerning the Church doctors; on the lower register one can see the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the kings present at the ecstasy of a saint contemplating, in his vision, God the father surrounded by the Virgin and Christ. This may constitute a Northern predominance, but it is also an extraordinarily composite range of forms where the strokes vary from the most simple to the most complex, where the depth oscillates between perspective and a rudimentary juxtaposition of planes, where the legibility of the motifs and ornaments is far from being uniform: this is what the native eye discovered and copied in the 1520s, '30s, and '40s. Europe's image was monochrome and multiform, let us not forget, even if an analysis cannot always take this into account.

No matter the style of the copied model, the link between books and engraving and that between images and writing stood out from the beginning, since Peter of Ghent's young native students learned how to read, write, trace gothic letters, draw illuminations and engravings (imágenes de plancha) all at the same time. By simultaneously discovering the graphic reproduction of language and the engraved reproduction of reality (the first image copied by an Indian accompanied the printed [?] text of a bull), Peter of Ghent's Indians were, from the outset, able to familiarize themselves with what the evangelizers meant by "image": the tracing of a molde, a copy but never—such as the ixiptla—the irresistible manifestation of a presence. Despite the hugeness of the project, Peter of Ghent's undertaking was crowned with success: the native workshops of the Fleming produced "the images and retables for all the country's temples."

The Walls of Images

The painted and sculpted image, in Mexico as elsewhere, was indissociable from the framework in which it was exposed to the gaze of the faithful. One cannot, therefore, abstract it from the religious architecture of the sixteenth century, that of the great Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustine monasteries lining the roads of Mexico and filling one of the most fascinating chapters of the history of Western art. It is an oft-neglected chapter, for the interest focused on the pre-Hispanic remains and the seduction created by the Mexican baroque contribute to leaving in the shadows the hundreds of buildings that the Indians erected under the direction of the mendicant monks. Captivated by the spectacular exoticism of the pyramids, blinded by the retables' delirium of gold and silver, our gaze balks at the familiar strangeness of these buildings ... and avoids it. We are confused to discover a medieval or Renaissance déjà vu, an awkward, deforming, and shattered mirror devoid, in any case, of the attraction of distance.

It was in the immense parvis in front of the cathedrals being built that the open "chapels" rose up. In front of their altars, sheltered under stone archways, the neophytes followed the celebration of the mass under open skies. Then, after the late sixteenth century, the tall naves—seemingly defying the laws of gravity so much that they were said to have scared the natives, since the Indians did not know of the art of the archway—sprang up next to the cloisters. These were the places in the countryside and the native towns where the Christian image appeared. Mexico City and a few Spanish colonies scattered throughout the country gave the Indians, to begin with, their only opportunities to perceive other types of representation, this time of a profane, but equally disconcerting nature. This was notably the case of the playing cards the invaders always had with them. Images in general thus blended strongly with the Christian image in particular.

The Indians discovered the painted and sculpted image on the walls and the archways of churches, in the interior of open chapels, all along hallways and stairs, in the rooms and refectories of the convents, and more rarely, through an open door, on the cell walls of the monks. Frescos usually alternated with canvases and unfolded drapes—"muy amplios tapices"—along the walls of the churches. Walls of images, at times gigantic screens displayed over tens of square meters, the Christian frescos were not plunged into the penumbra of sanctuaries as had been the pre-Cortesian panels only the priests could visit. These frescos were part of a new organization of space, shapes, and architectural volumes that the monks progressively introduced and transformed. How could one imagine the frescos of Actopan without the great stairway they decorate, and with which they form a whole built like the Benozzo Gozzoli chapel in the Ricardi palace in Florence? The students of the Augustines, the servants, the sacristans, the cantors who took the stairs daily, all these Indians circulated amidst an overabundance of porticos, columns, and friezes. The great figures of the order were also represented there, enthroned on their sumptuously decorated cathedras, surrounded by a profusion of ornaments, fully comparable to the most exuberant pre-Hispanic works. The religious scenes of Epazoyucan, the paintings of Acolman, and even the pieces of frescos that remain in many places still reveal a recurrent trait of this decor: a saturation of images. The frescos followed each other seamlessly across the walls, as if the monks had wished to re-create surroundings that had been left back in Europe, and thus preserve at all moments a visual link with this distant heritage: were they not the first consumers of these images? One must add, on a minor note but with a quite different impact, the illustrated books and engravings that the native nobility, instructed in the convents, were invited to leaf through and read.


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Table of Contents

Illustrations ix

Reprint Acknowledgments xi

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction: The Work of Vision in the Age of European Empires / Sumathi Ramaswamy 1

Section I: The Imperial Optic

Introduction / Martin Jay and Sumathi Ramaswamy 25

Part 1: Empires of the Palette

1. The Walls of Images / Serge Gruzinski 47

2. Painting as Exploration: Visualizing Nature in Eighteenth-Century Colonial Science / Daniela Bleichmar 64

3. Indian Yellow: Making and Breaking the Imperial Palette / Jordanna Bailkin 91

4. Colonial Panaromania / Roger Benjamin 111

Part 2. The Mass-Printed Imperium

5. Objects of Knowledge: Oceanic Artifacts in European Engravings / Nicholas Thomas 141

6. Excess in the City? Consumption of Imported Prints in Colonial Calcutta, c. 1780–c. 1795 / Natasha Eaton 159

7. Advertising and the Optics of Colonial Power at the Fin de Siècle / David Ciarlo 189

Part 3. Mapping, Claiming, Reclaiming

8. Mapping Plus Ultra: Cartography, Space, and Hispanic Modernity / Ricardo Padrón 211

9. Mapping an Exotic World: The Global Project of Dutch Cartography, circa 1700 / Benjamin Schmidt 246

10. Visual Regimes of Colonization: European and Aboriginal Seeing in Australia / Terry Smith 267

Part 4. The Imperial Lens

11. The Photography Complex: Exposing Boxer-Era China (1900–1901), Making Civilization / James L. Hevia 283

12. Colonial Theaters of Proof: Representation and Laughter in the 1930s Rockefeller Foundation Hygeine Cinema in Java / Eric A. Stein 315

13. Colonialism and the Built Space of Cinema / Brian Larkin 346

Section II. Postcolonial Looking

Introduction / Martin Jay and Sumathi Ramaswamy 377

Part 5. Subaltern Seeing: An Overlap of Complexities

14. Speaking Back to Orientalist Discourse / Zeynep Çelik 395

15. Maps, Mother/Goddesses, and Martyrdom in Modern India / Sumathi Ramaswamy 415

16. Notes from the Surface of the Image: Photography, Postcolonialism, and Vernacular Modernism / Christopher Pinney 450

17. "I Am Rendered Speechless by Your Idea of Beauty": The Picturesque in History and Art in the Postcolony / Krista A. Thompson 471

18. Fanon, Algeria, and the Cinema: The Politics of Identification / Robert Stam 503

Part 6. Regarding and Reconstituting Europe

19. Creole Europe: The Reflection of a Reflection / Christopher Pinney 539

20. Picasso, Africa, and the Schemata of Difference / Simon Gikandi 566

21. Double Dutch and the Culture Game / Olu Oguibe 594

Conclusion. A Parting Glance: Empire and Visuality / Martin Jay 609

Contributors 621

Index 629

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