Between the 15th and 17th centuries, in the context of the Iberian expansion, the presence and observation of unexpected artistic forms, media, and monuments triggered a new space of inquiry. Novel objects, surfaces, architectures, materials, and ideas about artistry were observed far and near—in the Americas, in Asia, in Africa, and in Europe. They traveled between continents in physical and textual forms: sent and offered as proofs of the new territories, desired and collected as unique treasures, but also described, compared and analyzed in letters, histories, or inventories. All around a sphere that could now be mentally embraced, missionaries, collectors, travelers, historians, and artists felt under the power of novel creations: body painting, gold byobu, intricate sculptures, but also turquoise masks, feather mosaics, painted manuscripts, fish-bone necklaces, ivory spoons, carved temples, monumental cities, and so on. These splendid artworks deeply challenged conceptual boundaries such as those between idol and image, beautiful and frightening, civilized and barbarian, center and periphery, classic and modern, and ancient and new. But most importantly, these artworks and their descriptions in chronicles, histories, and inventories contributed to define humanity as immanently creative—and to conceive artistic creation as a distinctive form of thought.
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