Westermann/Blakely #2

Above is the city of Benin in the 17th century pictured in Olfert Dapper’s travel book, Naukerige Beschrijvinge de Afrikaensche Gewesten. Demonstrated by their emphasis on trade and exploration, the Dutch have historically been curious about the world around them. The people in the Low Countries were particularly interested in travel literature, which featured Africans. It is important to note that this map recognizes Africans and makes them the focus. In previous Dutch artwork, black people were featured in paintings, yet they received no recognition in the artwork’s description. Blakely remarks on how black figures were ignored: “[…] they seem often to go unnoticed, at least by the conscious eye” (Blakely 115). Perhaps the recognition of black people in artwork serves to show the increased public awareness of Africa and its people. Blakely notes that the map depicts “graceful portraits of African people” (Blakely 149). Through racial depiction, Blakely is able to analyze how the Dutch regard Africans. Thus, this positive depiction mirrors improving public perception. With the spotlight focused on African individuals, the Dutch were becoming more aware of Africans’ role in the world and within the Netherlands. 

While Blakely would relate race and public perception to this image, Westermann would focus on how Dapper’s identity influences the map. Dapper had never been to Africa; thus, it is fair to assume that the European looking buildings in the background somewhat mirror Dapper’s own landscape. This may have been a subconscious artistic choice; nevertheless, it suggests that perhaps Africa is not as foreign as the Dutch may have thought. Through the landscape, Dapper achieved artistic authority. In addition to the landscape, Westermann would connect the map’s print image to the prints done by famous Dutch artists like Rembrandt. The map, which is identical in each copy of the travel book, is the predecessor to the prints created manually by artists. Unlike the distinctive prints created by Rembrandt, the map’s identical prints represent a loss of artistic identity. 


One thought on “Westermann/Blakely #2

  1. Nice attention to the relatively positive attention Dapper was giving to Benin Africans here–of course one of the key “commodities” Dutch sought to acquire were slaves. It would be interesting to see how Dutch artists depict African traders vs. enslaved Africans. Nice touch with the local landscape implications–this would carry over a tradition from relies art as well.


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