Lorenzo Vaccaro 1655–1706

The Four Continents: Europe



Lorenzo Vaccaro 1655–1706


The Four Continents: Europe


About 1690




96 x 60 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. Europe is shown as a young woman wearing a helmet and a breastplate in an antique style, evoking both the Greek goddess Athena and the Roman goddess Minerva – goddess of war and wisdom. The warhorse which decorates her helmet is one of the attributes of Europe mentioned by Cesare Ripa. Through the allusion to Europe as the ancient patron of arts and war, this allegory intends to enforce Europe’s cultural and military supremacy over the world, a belief that was widely held in past centuries. 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: Europe About 1690 © Compton Verney