Pairs of Figures from the Four Continents

Pairs of Figures from the Four Continents

c. 1760

Part of a set. See all set records

manufactured by

Chelsea Porcelain Factory

(British, London, 1745-1784)

Soft-paste porcelain

Part 1: 24.6 x 18.9 x 16.9 cm (9 11/16 x 7 7/16 x 6 5/8 in.); Part 2: 23.5 x 17.6 x 18.7 cm (9 1/4 x 6 15/16 x 7 3/8 in.)

Bequest of Mary Warden Harkness 1917.601

Location

Fun Fact

Figural representations of the four continents date back to the 1500s, but such imagery became even more popular in the 1700s as European empires expanded.

Description

Often collected by wealthy British merchants who were beneficiaries of colonial expansion, figural groups were frequently part of elaborate table decorations meant to signify wealth and global prominence. In one pair, Europe is seen holding an orb and wearing a crown as queen of the world, suggesting Europe’s supremacy over the other continents. She is entangled with America, who is wearing feathers with a bow and arrow at her feet. Africa, who wears an elephant headdress and holds a scorpion in one hand, wrestles with Asia, who is surrounded by perfumes and native fruits. Today we recognize these depictions of America, Africa, and Asia as racial stereotypes, revealing a purely imagined understanding of other cultures and continents at the time.

Video

Four Continents
See also
Collection: 
Decorative Arts
Type of artwork: 
Ceramic

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