Escala: Art, Scale, and Geographic Vastness in the Spanish Empire, 1521–1621

Sunghoon Lee, M.A.

Escala studies the colonial Philippines in order to understand how Spaniards perceived, measured, and overcame notions of geographic distance and vastness during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Positioned at the extreme edge of the world’s largest empire, the Philippines was not only a linchpin in the first global-scale colonial project but also an intractable demonstration of the archipelago’s distance from the metropole. The visual cultures of the Spanish Empire relating to the Philippine archipelago thus oscillate between two rhetorical strategies: images of the globe’s extensiveness and unwieldiness reverberate alongside representations of the Spanish Empire’s desire to efficiently manage, explore, and exploit this global scale. From 1521, when Magellan and his crew finally arrived in the Philippines following a 17-month journey, to 1621, when Jerónima de la Asunción, a nun from the Colettine monastery of Santa Isabel de los Reyes de Toledo, arrived in Manila and established a new monastery after a 15-month journey, the art of this most distant point in the empire provides a compelling case study to explore how the issue of scale informed the production and reception of a wide range of artworks.

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