In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Visual Art and Representation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Museum Collections, Archives, and Resources
  • Representations of the African Atlantic Experience
  • Representations of Slavery
  • African Art After European Contact
  • Representations of and by Indigenous Peoples of the Americas
  • Ibero-America
  • Anglo-America
  • Landscape and Nature
  • Cartography
  • Architecture and Material Culture
  • Museums and Collecting
  • Individual Artists
  • Conferences and Exhibitions

Atlantic History Visual Art and Representation
Susan Scott Parrish
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 February 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0006


The field of art history has undergone dramatic changes since the 1970s as it has moved from practices of formalism, iconography, and connoisseurship toward visual-culture studies. In the 1970s and 1980s, Marxist, social-history, and material-culture methodologies, along with an older tradition of vernacular-studies scholarship, brought about a significant broadening of the field. This broadening of scholarly interests and methodologies in turn paved the way for the more recent efflorescence in visual-culture studies. Visual culture not only includes the “great masters” of art but comprehends all forms of visuality in daily or vernacular life; it attends to modes of seeing in an almost anthropological manner; it acknowledges ideological forces that shoot through the visual and arenas of collection and display. Within cultural studies more broadly is an interest in “representation,” or various rhetorics of truth making. Another trend in art history of the Americas is a growing interest in cross-cultural exchanges. Although the Atlantic world as a field of historical analysis is of relatively recent vintage, scholars of art history have been aware of the visuality of empire and race for quite a while. To generalize, European art’s engagement with the Atlantic concerns itself with imagery of empire; African art with alteration and hybrid forms postcontact; and art in the Americas with colonial self-fashioning and the visuality of settler revolutions and also with clashes and meldings of European, indigenous American, and African forms.

General Overviews

The titles in this category are not limited topically and geographically but concern themselves with Atlantic imperial visual culture or representations produced in the context of imperial and trade circuitry. Lips 1937 pulls together an extensive collection of images of Europeans produced by Africans and indigenous Americans; it is the only collection of its kind. Honour 1975 surveys early modern images of the Americas in multiple media; this is one of the best overall resources of Atlantic images. More recently, Tobin 1999 and Driver and Martins 2005 explore the tropics as a visual and semiotic invention. The unique role of the Dutch as visual recorders and fashioners of the Atlantic is covered by Schmidt 2001; in general, the Dutch Atlantic is both extremely important and woefully understudied. Bindman 2002 deals with the intersections of aesthetic theories and race; France’s vexed postrevolutionary imperial imaginary is analyzed by Grigsby 2002 and Britain’s by Barringer, et al. 2007. Finally, a collection of essays, Quilley and Kriz 2003, brings the full Atlantic sphere and visuality together.

  • Barringer, Timothy, Geoff Quilley, and Douglas Fordham, eds. Art and the British Empire. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2007.

    Twenty essays that seek to place empire at the center of the study of British art history; looks at empire as a complex and contested process rather than a monolithic inevitability.

  • Bindman, David. Ape to Apollo: Aesthetics and the Idea of Race in the 18th Century. London: Reaktion, 2002.

    Looks at the role of aesthetic theory in Germany, France, and England as it impacted the formation of scientific theories about human variety and, ultimately, race. Twelve color and sixty-five black-and-white illustrations.

  • Driver, Felix, and Luciana Martins, eds. Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

    This collection divides itself into three main categories: voyages, mapping, and sites; it deals with maps, painting, botanical drawings, diagrams, and photographs. Though it covers the global tropical, it has essays on Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

  • Grigsby, Darcy Grimaldo. Extremities: Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

    Focuses on Anne-Louis Girodet, Antoine-Jean Gros, Théodore Gericault, and Eugène Delacroix to argue that these painters associated France’s violent activities abroad not with mastery but with crisis and degradation and that representing slavery abroad helped them to articulate the value of liberty in France.

  • Honour, Hugh. The New Golden Land: European Images of America from the Discoveries to the Present Time. New York: Pantheon, 1975.

    An exemplary and compendious collection of images, including iconography, map cartouches, paintings, wall paintings, ephemera, and prints; traces the pictorial conceptions of the Americas from c. 1492 on.

  • Lips, Julius E. The Savage Hits Back; or, The White Man through Native Eyes. Translated by Vincent Benson. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1937.

    Surveys African, Oceanic, and Native American portrayals of Europeans from the period of first contacts. Remarkable resource with 213 illustrations, dealing with images of ships, soldiery and other professionals, objects, missionaries, European royalty, and women.

  • Quilley, Geoff, and Kay Dian Kriz, eds. An Economy of Colour: Visual Culture and the Atlantic World, 1660–1830. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003.

    Not only is this the only collection on Atlantic visual culture published to date, it is also a really excellent one. Covers the visualization of race, slavery, hybridity, conflicted imperial desire, and revolutions.

  • Schmidt, Benjamin. Innocence Abroad: The Dutch Imagination and the New World, 1570–1670. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    Study of how the Dutch, who were dominant in the world of printing, represented and conceived of the New World; argues that, as former subjects of Spain and as traders in (rather than major colonizers of) the Americas, the Dutch had a conception of America that was less imperial than other European powers.

  • Tobin, Beth Fowkes. Picturing Imperial Power: Colonial Subjects in Eighteenth-Century British Painting. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

    A pathbreaking book; makes use of postcolonial theory and cultural anthropology; focusing mostly on the last third of the 18th century, it surveys, in the Atlantic sphere, representations of Africans in English portraits and of Indians in colonial American paintings, botanical illustration, and coloniality more generally.

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