2023–2024 Gombar/Duychak Lecture
“The Silver Fleet and the Copperplate: Reinscribing Dutch Piracy”
Professor Stephanie Porras, Chair Art Department, Professor Art History, Northern Renaissance and Colonial Latin America, Tulane University
In September 1628, the Dutch general Piet Hein intercepted and captured 16 Spanish ships—the Spanish silver fleet—in the Bay of Matanzas, off the shore of Cuba. The spoils of this single action—over 11.5 million guilders worth of gold, silver, dyestuffs and a cache of luxury objects—was a key turning point in the history of the Dutch West India Company, supplying the fledgling company with the necessary capital to execute its future agenda of expansion in the Americas. This talk considers how the repeated representations of the silver fleet—both via its printed depictions and the reinscription of objects and material from the galleon itself—acted to recall an historic victory, and as a spur to future speculative investment in the Dutch project in the Americas. Prints of the silver fleet and the purloined objects themselves demonstrate the intertwined nature of burgeoning national mythology and the speculative operations of global capital.
Stephanie Porras specializes in the visual and material culture of Northern Europe and the Spanish world, from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Before coming to Tulane, she previously taught at Columbia University, the Courtauld Institute of Art and University College London. She is Reviews Editor for the Art Bulletin and Chair of the Newcomb Art Department and on the editorial board of the Nederlands Yearbook for History of Art/Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek.
Her latest book, The First Viral Images: Maerten de Vos, Antwerp print and the early modern globe (Pennsylvania State University press, 2023) traces the complex production and reception histories of an illustrated book, a painting and an engraving, all made in Antwerp in the late sixteenth century, but copied by Venetian print publishers, Spanish and Latin American painters, Mughal miniaturists and by Filipino ivory carvers. Analyzing the social networks and infrastructures that undergirded these artworks’ mobility, she uses virality as a critical framework to reassess creative labor and art’s role in the uneven processes of early modern globalization. Some of this work has appeared in journal articles for the Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, Colonial Latin American Review and Artl@s.