This picture, Tiepolo’s largest and most dazzling oil sketch, represents
Apollo about to embark on his daily course across the sky. Deities
around the sun god symbolize the planets, and allegorical figures on the
cornice represent the four continents. Tiepolo presented this
preliminary sketch to Carl Philipp von Greiffenklau, the prince-bishop
of Würzburg, on April 20, 1752, as his proposal for the decoration of
the vast staircase ceiling of the Residenz, often considered the
artist’s greatest achievement.
In western allegories, land masses or nations are usually represented as women. Each of these frames could be a whole composition unto themselves:
The work itself is very beautiful, but the theme of these allegorical paintings have rather unsavory imperialistic (as well as sexist and racist) overtones.
Often imagined as a grouping of three or four, the allegorization of continents through the representation of female subjects became an ever more appealing and central mode of global representation as European nations increased their imperial possession through the violent acquisition of new territories. The four continents—Africa, Asia, Europe and America—went hand in hand with the idea of woman as nature, literalizing the symbolic representation of woman as territory and allowing for an aesthetic exploration of the female body as both beautiful and sublime. Within colonial ideals of racial classification, the beautiful was most often reserved for Europe as a white woman and sometimes for a sisterly America, if rendered as a woman of European descent. Asia and Africa were displaced from the white paradigm of beauty and civilization, and America, when depicted as a Native woman, also joined this marginalized sisterhood.
This allegory then was a geographical one that through compositional and aesthetic distinctions reproduced colonial ideals of race within essentialized hierarchies through a supposed accurate representation of the types of (wo)mankind that inhabited the four corners of the earth. By the nineteenth century, the allegory of the four continents was an ubiquitous imperial trope deployed within painting, sculpture, as architectural motifs, ceramics, print culture and other forms of art and visual culture. Readily recognizable, it functioned dominantly as a celebration of European imperial expansionism while affording the white viewer the pleasurable experience of seeing the colonized “other” and of seeing themselves as culturally and aesthetically superior to the populations they were colonizing.
When I reach for you
I am reaching for meaning,
to make more of your hands
than just fingers and palm,
to make more of myself
than just a reflection in your eyes,
to understand all that has been
so often misunderstood,
to hear that which has been
left unspoken between
the seconds, minutes, hours.
These I measure not in time,
but in the wingspan of a plane,
the distance between continents,
the lives lived in every timezone.
Sorry! As some of the other notes have said, I meant this sort of thing: “Of course. Asia and Europe aren’t even a separate landmass, after all.” (on your Europe tag) -> arbitrary line down the Eurasian continent of ‘other’?
As for “arbitrary”, it doesn’t mean “completely random”. Everything named by humans serves a purpose for humans, in this case presumably Europeans, since they were the ones who decided they were separate.
I can only speak to American ideas about this, after all. In the U.S. the idea that Europe was completely culturally and geographically isolated (and racially isolated) for pretty much the entirety of human history is very popular and widely accepted. It’s also not true.
How this belief can co-exist with The Silk Road also being (fairly) common knowledge, I don’t really understand. And the Crusades. And the Roman Empire. And the Mongolian, Ottoman, and Byzantine Empires. Vikings. Al-Andalus.
So, I explore that.
I mean, this is exactly how it goes: A film or show comes out cast entirely with white people, even though it’s meant for a pretty diverse American audience.
Viewers and fans of color are like, “wow, why isn’t anyone who looks like me on this show, or on TV/in movies, like, ever?”
White fans are like, “how dare you? It’s a European [inspiration/source/book/fairy tale]. Everyone to the last person, every single last human, in Europe was white back then (pretty much no matter when. or where.)”
I’m like, “That doesn’t make any sense if you think about it for two seconds, for about a million reasons (supernatural elements in the source, documented historical precedence, source being 100% fiction, historical facts, et cet).”
And this isn’t even getting into the whole “people had boats since 5ever” factor. Australia has been populated for 40,000-ish years, after all.
So we come back to the question: What separates Asia and Europe? The answer is, essentially, nothing. Another answer is: human social constructs. Yet another answer is: distance. Another: a political boundary.
But maybe we get a little more mileage out of NEW questions: What purpose does this boundary serve, and whom does it serve? What ideas are attached to it? Why do we care?