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An artistic humanity. New positions on art and freedom


How can we account for the rich array of texts devoted, in the 16th and 17th centuries, to artistic practices in the most distant corners of the Iberian world? Can we understand them as evidence of a proto-ethnographic sensibility among missionaries and chroniclers in their encounters with the “Other”? Not being very fond of the rhetoric of the Other, I address in this essay a completely different set of questions: What were the precise political implications of praising these technés? What role did the textual celebration of artistic intelligence play within the project of Iberian expansion? And to what extent was it also independent from it?

Alessandra Russo, “An artistic humanity. New positions on art and freedom in the context of Iberian expansion, 1500-1600″, Res. Anthropology and Aesthetics, 65-66 (2014-2015), Harvard University Press, pp. 352-363.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, artistic intelligence played a critical role in the debate on the rationality of the populations of the New World, as well as those of Asia and Africa.  In the writings of Bartolomé de Las Casas, in particular, a new concept of humanity takes shape—a humanity which does not lie in a biological essence, but in the ability to think, craft, imagine and create.  Other numerous sources written and painted in the context of the Iberian expansion —in particular the pages on the art of painting in the Florentine Codex— point to other instances where American artistic activity is presented not only as a demonstration of the humanity and rationality of people from all around the world, but also of the artistic freedom and desire of the creators.

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