What is the sigificance of Peter Paul Ruben's painting, the Four Continents? What does it represent?

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ophelious | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Ruben's painting "The Four Continents" was created in 1615 in Belgium.  This date is significant, considering the subject matter.  The painting is allegorical, which means that the things shown are supposed to represent ideas.

In the case of "The Four Continents," the women represent Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Asia. They are separated by water (as represented by the "river Gods" of the Nile, Danube, Ganges, and Rio de la Plata.)  Australia wasn't represented as it had only been recently "discovered" by Europeans and they probably didn't know what it was yet, if news had even gotten back to Europe at all by the time the painting was created.

From what I understand, the four women (portraying the four continents) are supposed to represent the spread of Catholicism to the four corners of the world.

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