Back to Scholarship

The First Viral Images: Maerten de Vos, Antwerp Print, and the Early Modern Globe

As a social phenomenon and a commonplace of internet culture, virality provides a critical vocabulary for addressing questions raised by the global mobility and reproduction of early modern artworks. This book uses the concept of virality to study artworks’ role in the uneven processes of early modern globalization.
Drawing from archival research in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, Stephanie Porras traces the trajectories of two interrelated objects made in Antwerp in the late sixteenth century: Gerónimo Nadal’s Evangelicae historiae imagines, an illustrated devotional text published and promoted by the Society of Jesus, and a singular composition by Maerten de Vos, St. Michael the Archangel. Both were reproduced and adapted across the early modern world in the seventeenth century. Porras examines how and why these objects traveled and were adopted as models by Spanish and Latin American painters, Chinese printmakers, Mughal miniaturists, and Filipino ivory carvers. Reassessing the creative labor underpinning the production of a diverse array of copies, citations, and reproductions, Porras uses virality to elucidate the interstices of the agency of individual artists or patrons, powerful gatekeepers and social networks, and economic, political, and religious infrastructures. In doing so, she tests and contests several analytical models that have dominated art-historical scholarship of the global early modern period, putting pressure on notions of copying, agency, context, and viewership.

Vital and engaging, The First Viral Images sheds new light on how artworks, as agents of globalization, navigated and contributed to the emerging and intertwined global infrastructures of Catholicism, commerce, and colonialism.