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Late 17th century depictions of Africa and Africans

Visscher map of AfricaBy the end of the seventeenth century Dutch cartographers were very knowledgeable about the African coast, as shown by this modern-looking map of the continent produced by the Visscher engraving and publishing house in Amsterdam. Three generations of Visschers produced high quality maps and art engravings throughout the seventeenth century. Like maps of the other major Dutch cartographers, Visscher's were repeatedly copied and modified, so they were seen by large numbers of people. For example, a smaller version of this map, complete with the cartouche showing the primitive natives, was printed in Olfert Dapper's Description de l'Afrique, shown in this exhibition in its 1686 French edition.

 Detail of Dapper view of LovangoIn addition to maps, Dapper's work included many town views, such as this one of the town of Lovango (in modern Congo-Brazzaville). The volume is part of Jacob Meurs's series of books on Asia, Africa and the Americas, and the town view shows the same Dutch artistic style seen in the views of Acapulco, Edo and Hocsieu, elsewhere in the exhibition. But where the Asian views show peaceful pastoral scenes in the foreground, the African one shows a group carrying a man off to be executed. The scene emphasizes the cruelty of the people, a common theme in descriptions of African society into the nineteenth century.

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