2022 IAS Dissertation Research Grant

Jillianne Laceste (Ph.D. Candidate, Boston University)

Creating Columbus: The Visual Culture of Colonial Encounters in Early Modern Genoa

Bridging the near and far and the local and the global of the early modern world, seventeenth-century Genoese frescoes and silver vessels visually linked Christopher Columbus and his so-called “discovery” of America to his native maritime city of Genoa. These artworks expose how the Genoese understood this newly known land and its place in the Republic of Genoa’s history since the Genoese credited themselves with the Spanish colonization of America through their economic activities and alliance with the Hispanic empire. Often picturing the explorer in a moment of first contact with indigenous Americans, these idealized views of America use three major elements—Columbus, stereotypical indigenous figures, and the American shore—to create a narrative of Genoese economic success that was built on commercial enterprises and the upheaval and exploitation of American land and people.

My dissertation uses these understudied artworks to investigate the dynamic dialogue between this visual culture of Columbus; the political, economic, and intellectual discourses of Genoa; and the Republic’s place within the early modern transatlantic network. Race and place are important themes within my research as these two concepts become intertwined in the history of the Transatlantic and artworks of Columbus. Over four chapters, I explore how visualizing the combination of Columbus and American foreignness reinforced Genoese self-perceptions and simultaneously emphasized their entrepreneurialism and participation in the expanding global world. These artworks highlight how the early experiences and writings of European explorers were bonded to the idea of America—causing the American landscape and indigenous people to be framed through a Eurocentric lens and the specific views of Amerigo Vespucci and Columbus. In addition to presenting America as a wondrous place full of potential, both the frescoes and silver vessels juxtapose European identity and American Otherness to emphasize a territorial narrative through evangelism. The silver vases add another layer to this presentation of America by embodying the visibility and invisibility of American and European labor. Their
material highlights the transatlantic silver market, while their subject matter reflects the physical exploitation of America by emphasizing how this foreign land can function and serve purpose in a Eurocentric world.

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