Lorenzo Vaccaro 1655–1706

The Four Continents: America



Lorenzo Vaccaro 1655–1706


The Four Continents: America


About 1670-1690




100 x 58 x 30 cm






On Display

This sculpture is one of four marble busts that represent the four continents: Europe, Africa, Asia, and America. As female personifications, they are adorned with individual attributes taken from Cesare Ripa’s famous emblem book the Iconologia (1593). This book was widely used by artists, poets, and speakers to give form to abstract ideas. Although not geographically accurate, at this time the four continents were used symbolically to represent the whole world. The personification of America draws a clear inspiration from Ripa’s Iconology. Her head is crowned with a luxuriant plume of feather, her upper body and breasts are uncovered, and she is portrayed with contracted eyebrows, in a seemingly angry expression. This reflects the European prejudice of the time that Native Americans were fierce and aggressive. Along with his son Domenico Antonio Vaccaro (1678-1745), Lorenzo Vaccaro was one of the leading sculptors of the late Baroque period in Naples. He was also as a painter, architect, and a talented silversmith. We don’t know where these busts were originally displayed. The narrow bases are decorated with ornamental cartouches which have been left blank. It is likely that they were sculptured for a secular patron, or for a representative building, where they would have emphasised claims of dynasty or status. Vaccaro designed another cycle of the Four Continents, in silver and full figure, for the Viceroy of Naples, Francesco de Benavides (1640-1716), which are now in Toledo Cathedral.

Lorenzo Vaccaro The Four Continents: America About 1670-1690 © Compton Verney