Turning the colonial gaze back on the colonizers
June 15, 2020 5:06 PM   Subscribe

There had been paintings of hell before, showing people (much like the people for whom the paintings were made) undergoing various punishments for their sins. But this painting no longer represents generic humanity. Here, the tortured are marked as white Europeans, being punished by mostly swarthy monsters with distinctly exotic trappings drawn from the newly encountered inhabitants of the farthest ends of the world—all the way down the African coast, all the way across the (Atlantic) Western Ocean, and, possibly, as far as India. And the punishments seem to concentrate on the sins unleashed by the European expeditions, the sins of rapaciousness: lust, gluttony, and greed.
Hell is for White People: A painting from 1515 turns a mirror on its viewers
posted by Rumple (6 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
like hell, the doors of whiteness are locked from the inside
posted by Countess Elena at 5:33 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]

posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:41 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]

This is really interesting, thank you for posting.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:01 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]

Here, white people are the rapacious ones, the lusty ones, the ridiculous ones, and the defeated ones. Two faces, the albino monster to the left and the flame mask to the right, turn toward us as if to say, yes, I know you’re enjoying watching this, and have you considered this might be you?

This line really stood out to me as a reminder for today. Such an interesting and grotesque painting and thought provoking analysis. Thank you for sharing.
posted by kendrak at 10:52 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]

Several of the strange motifs—the figure with bent knee on a crutch, the pig orifice, the spurting fire, the beak-nosed figure, and the albino monster—are closely drawn from a triptych by Hieronymus Bosch that was in Portugal (probably in the Portuguese royal collection) at the time, and now hangs in the same museum as this painting.

That's odd because this was painted in 1515 and according to most sources the Bosch triptych was still in Spain and then brought to Lisbon in the mid-1500s.

My partner grew up in Lisbon and says this was one of her favorite paintings growing up. She is off right now doing more research on this painting - something she feels she should have done a long time ago.

Here's the Arte Antiga entry for the painting.
posted by vacapinta at 3:09 AM on June 16 [9 favorites]

I would love to see this in person. When I was in Lisbon I didn't know it existed, unfortunately; hopefully when travel returns to normal I can find a way to build this into a future trip.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:27 AM on June 16

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