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Arts of Europe

The MFAH collections of art created on the European continent encompass artistic styles across the time line of history, from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era to the 21st century.

Africa, Part of The Four Corners of the Globe
1770–80, Chelsea, England

Overall: 8 7/8 x 4 3/8 x 4 1/4 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Bayou Bend Collection, Museum purchase funded by Mrs. Fred T. Couper, Jr. in loving memory of her mother, Mrs. William Victor Bowles

Arts of Europe

The anthropomorphized image of Africa—which represents the continent as a human being—has been a part of Western visual culture for more than two millennia. Yet it was not until the Portuguese started exploring West Africa during the 1400s that this humanized image appeared with regularity in European art.

This figurine, one of a set of four representing the “Four Corners of the Globe,” shows the continent as a boy with jet-black skin surrounded by references to Africa’s natural environment, including an elephant headdress and a lion upon which the boy kneels. The figurines depicting Asia and America also highlight native peoples’ mastery of nature. The figure of Europe, however, stands atop symbols referring to supposedly superior educated culture that include a scrolled base referencing the educated and sophisticated nature of European society. To further demonstrate the distinction between Europe and her counterparts, the European figure holds a globe in one hand and a crown on her head.

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