Accepted Paper:

Albert Eckhout's Tapestry "The Fishermen" (c. 1692 - c. 1723): Between Art, Ethnography and Diplomacy  


Bianca Schor (EHESS)

Paper short abstract:

Eckhout's works are among the oldest extant images of Dutch Brazil. Based on his drawings there, "The Fishermen" was woven for Louis XIV by the Manufacture des Gobelins. This paper examines to what extent this tapestry, made for diplomatic purposes, is a reliable body of ethnographic knowledge.

Paper long abstract:

The painter Albert Eckhout (c. 1610 - 1666) was invited to Dutch Brazil in 1636 by governor Johan Maurits to observe and depict the local inhabitants, fauna and flora. After his return from Brazil, Maurits commissioned him eight tapestries to adorn the walls of his home in The Hague. In 1678, he presented the cartoons to king Louis XIV as a diplomatic gift. "The Fishermen" was made from c. 1692 to c. 1723 by the Manufacture des Gobelins in Paris, as part of the tapestry series "The Old Indies". It has been woven many times to meet a high demand in European courts.

"The Fishermen" is one of the first depictions of Brazilian natives fishing, hunting and picking fruit in a bountiful nature. It raises the question of how accurately Eckhout represented them, and whether his design contains ethnographic knowledge once turned into a decorative and diplomatic present.

Based on iconographic and archival research, this paper will first examine how Eckhout's artistic choices show through his account of the scene. The question of how this representation carried ethnographic data at a time when illustrations and their reproduction were essential in mediating knowledge will then be addressed. Lastly, the extent to which this knowledge translates into a diplomatic and decorative gift will be discussed. By analysing the circulation of Eckhout's design, from observation to a wall tapestry, this paper will assess the reliability of "The Fishermen" as a body of knowledge, and how it functions as a historical ethnographic document.

Panel P002
Art as Ethnography/Ethnography as Art