Africana Subjects Reflection

Boogschutter, Jan de Visscher, after Cornelis Visscher (II), 1643 – 1692

Boogschutter, meaning “archer” in Dutch, stood out to me because it is an engraving, managing to do so much with just shades of grey. The landscape and cliff formations behind it caught my eye, as they are evocative and almost fantastical. This would especially have been true for a seventeenth century Dutch audience, used to entirely flat landscapes and certainly unfamiliar with striking vistas and overhanging cliffs.

Of course, the landscape is not the focal point; instead my eyes are immediately drawn to the archer’s face and bow hand, which occupy the center of the work. Next I follow the line of the bow itself, before turning to the quiver and arrow hand. His eyes gaze off into the distance and his whole body is in motion, his hand bringing an arrow up out of the quiver and towards the bow. It appears that he sees something in the distance, but what it is we can’t be sure. Altogether, these elements create a sense of heightened suspense, mystery, and action.

This painting, in the context of its time, draws on typical stereotypes of African subjects. The figure is childlike, which could mean he is literally meant to be a child or could be a reinforcement of the infantilized and helpless view of Africans held by Europeans at the time. The text below the image reads (according to Google Translate) “So has the Moor with bow and arrow…wild in the eye.” I couldn’t figure out the middle part. It’s a rhyme (“boogh” and “oogh”), understandable to a wide audience, and the fact that it was a print reinforces this idea. Perhaps it was intended almost as escapist entertainment for Dutch audiences of the time; there’s very little information on that front.

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