Early modern central Africa comes to life in the vivid full-page paintings Italian Capuchin Franciscans, veterans of the Kongo and Angola missions, composed between 1650 and 1750 for the training of future missionaries. Their “practical guides” present the intricacies of the natural, social, and religious environment of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century west-central Africa and outline the primarily visual catechization methods they devised for the region.
Unfolding outside of a European colonial project, at the demand of local rulers, and among populations who had engaged with the visual and material culture of Europe and Christianity for more than one hundred and fifty years, the Capuchin central African apostolate is without parallel in the early modern world. Equally unique are the images that emerged in the friars’ sustained and fraught interactions with the men and women of Kongo and Angola.
In this presentation, I analyze this overlooked visual corpus to demonstrate how such visual creations, though European in form and craftsmanship, did not emerge from a single perspective but rather were and should be read as the products of cross-cultural interaction. With this intervention, I aim to model a way to think anew about images created across cultures, bringing to the fore the formative role that encounter itself played in their conception, execution, and modes of operation.
Dr Cécile Fromont is Professor of the History of Art at Yale University. Her writing and teaching focus on the visual, material, and religious culture of Africa and Latin America with special emphasis on the early modern period (around 1500–1800), on the Portuguese-speaking Atlantic World, and on the slave trade.
This program is supported by the Bader Legacy Fund and in partnership with the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, in recognition of Bader Day on November 15.
Photo: Bernardino d'Asti Missione in Prattica ca 1750