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Art, Commerce, and Colonialism: Unraveling Global Dynamics From 1600 to 1800 Through Critical Approaches

Against this backdrop of monumental changes in the world stage that saw the rise and fall of empires, the change of ages in world views, and tremendous socio-political changes around the globe, 1600 to 1800 is a period that unfolds. In such dynamic undercurrents, the domain of art and visual culture experiences a massive transformation influenced by facets like commerce, colonialism, and changing global perspectives. This essay marshals critical approaches delineated in ‘The Reader’ and ‘Art, Commerce and Colonialism 1600–1800’, focusing on Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann’s pivotal work. The journey proposed by this exploration is a less intellectual analysis of the art objects. However, it opens access to understanding the play of art with the historical dynamics that give a more profound sense of the contradicting interweaving fabrics of the 17th and 18th centuries. Through the following essay, we will endeavour to unearth connected dimensions of art, commerce, and colonialism throughout, guided by Kaufmann’s critical lens, illuminating how selected works and additional resources contribute to a holistic understanding of this transformative period.

Critical Approach

In his ‘Painting of the Kingdoms: A Global Perspective on Cultural Field,’ Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann takes up 1600 to 1800 art history critical standpoint. He proposes a lens of global interrelation for artwork that overturns the Eurocentric perspective of art history using comparative analysis and archival review (Von Schlosser, 2021). Kaufmann methodically explores their cross-cultural exchanges, bringing to the surface the richness of creative arts, globalisation and emerging cultural commonalities on the one hand, influenced by commerce, colonialism, and evolving worldviews on the other. This approach conditionally breaks the conventional art history narratives, being a shift from Eurocentric biases and making it pay more attention to the all-embracing perception of the epoch (Martin, 2022). The work of Kaufmann thus takes to piece the outdated frames, with its attention on India during this transformative moment, providing a kind of understanding that can develop mutual accountabilities and reciprocal societies for the intermingled dynamic of art, commerce, and colonialism.

Integration of Art, Commerce and Colonialism 1600–1800: Observations on Johann Albrecht von Mandelslo’s Amsterdam

The interjection of Johann Albrecht von Mandelslo’s account in ‘Art, Commerce and Colonialism 1600–1800’, particularly in the chapter entitled ‘Johann Albrecht von Mandelslo on Amsterdam’, embellishes a dense contextual layer that both corroborates and criticises Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann’s arguments. As Mandelslo observes his first experience of Amsterdam, with an eye towards cultural mobility and globalisation, the movement of styles and art traditions, he brings these into perspective with Kaufmann’s themes of united principles of diverse people and arts (Schunka, 2020). In his chapter, Mandelslo records the artistic and cultural life of the Dutch city, thus showing the influences to which a town like this has been subjected and doing work effaced from commodified space. This record perfectly corresponds with the stress on cultural interactions, which Kaufmann points out. It demonstrates that the dynamics seen in Amsterdam were part of a larger global dynamic taking place during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Additionally, Mandelslo’s account aids in undermining Kaufmann’s global outlook with debates from localised narratives, which the text mostly lacks. For instance, a constructive way of questioning Kaufmann’s proposition gives group experiences and instances that cannot be shown through comparative artwork interpretations alone. Mandelslo’s experiences in Amsterdam, as displayed in the chapter, thus become a microcosmic reflection of the more significant global dynamics Kaufmann investigates (van Gorkom, 2020). This chapter reinforces the connectedness of global artistic interactions during this transformational period while introducing unique nuances that stress localised contexts, which help understand broader trends Kaufmann identifies. This synergistic approach provides a more comprehensive and nuanced elaboration of the interplay between art, commerce, and colonialism from 1600 to 1800.

Use of Additional Resource: European Art and the Wider World 1350–1550

The supplementary use of the resource, ‘European Art and the Wider World 1350–1550,’ ensures that critical perspectives are accorded to enrich the understanding over the designated period between 1600 and 1800. While this resource focuses on investing in the previous period, its research concerning artistic exchange across colonial contact and cultural interchange provides vital sons and disrupters that filter into the later centuries (Kümin, 2022). Another important continuity is formulated within the patterns of artistic exchange while the resource reflects cases of cultural mix and acceptance of different art traditions. Understanding how these exchanges shifted and survived for many years would be critical in contextualising the developments that characterised the global art and visual culture of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Further, it provides us with a historical perspective through which we can imagine the origins of these changes that took place in the 17th and 18th centuries by elucidating ruptures and changes in the dynamic of colonialism in the nascent period. For instance, specific episodes of colonial encounter and their effect on artistic production in the 14th and 15th centuries may provide parallels or contrasts to similar dynamics in the later period. By tracing continuity and change in artistic, commercial, and colonial interaction across this tremendous region over at least five centuries, scholars gain a more excellent and more nuanced perspective on the evolutionary trajectories that define the global art historical narrative (Ozment, 2020). Such a more profound understanding becomes necessary to unmask the realities concealed in the said era as it provides a better comprehensive view of how global influences impacted art, commerce, and colonialism between 1600 and 1800.

Selection and Analysis of Works of Art and Visual Culture

Emulative along the characterised genre of the late commercial ethos from 1600 to 1800, “The Triumph of Commerce” by James Barry invites a detailed visual analysis integrating Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann’s critical approach. Following Kaufmann’s emphasis on cultural interchange and fusion of varied artistic heritages, the painting unravels a vivid tale in visual summary. The meeting point of trade routes told through art means a pivot of the painting that epitomises the strong connections created by world business. The people busy with various trading items populated the scene, showing eclectic articles being traded. This complex representation mirrors Kaufmann’s stipulated argument on how cultural exchanges based on commerce had perfectly shaped and transformed society during that specified period (Gombrich, 2023). Symbolic elements in the painting, such as images of riches and the economic boom times, repeat Kaufmann’s investigation into more significant dynamics that shaped artistic production. Within this context, certain visual elements, as noted in “The Triumph of Commerce”, illuminate how art and commerce had started to interrelate globally.

Regarding the example of the Taj Mahal, Kaufmann further stresses the synthesis between cultural diversities in its architecture. Given the interplay between cross-cultural encounters and global dynamics, Kaufmann posits the Taj Mahal – commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan – as the epitome of 1600-1800 artistic production. Culturally exchanged beget a deepened understanding of the Taj Mahal. Kaufmann’s work readily pairs itself with it since it exhibits an architectural storyline in which Persian, Islamic, and Indian traditions are synthesised (Parodi, 2023). A closer view of the cultural and historical context of the Taj Mahal helps us find showcased diversity purposely used in it. For instance, the geometric floral designs and calligraphy on the world marble face are incorporated from Persian and Islamic art amalgamation. Kaufmann’s critical approach further enhances our understanding by unwrapping the layers of meaning implanted into these visual aspects. Given this, the Taj Mahal is pushed to become a manifestation of relationships and cultural exchange enabled by business and colonialism during the specificity of the time, thus showing the individual complexities that are taking place on the globe in the name of art and visual culture.

Critical Evaluation:

Kaufmann’s critical approach adeptly unravels complexities inside the Taj Mahal, highlighting cultural crossover and the amalgamation of diverse artistic traditions. The white marble façade of the Taj Mahal, inlaid with jasper and jade, whose ornate geometrical designs and calligraphy provide perhaps the most resplendent illustration of these is one of those cross-cultural links as Indian and Islamic architecture illustrates how influences of Iranian, Islamic, and Indian interacted and fused (Mishra, 2019). The view of the Taj Mahal through Kaufmann’s global perspective informs the understanding of colonialism and commerce as fostering connectedness among various regions. It is essential to recognise that in various parts of the world, the iconic status of the Taj Mahal may have overshadowed regional nuances during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Zahra & Shahir, 2023). While Kaufmann’s approach is illuminating the broad cross-cultural dynamics, it may as well not fully capture the diverse trajectories that are forming artistic production globally. From now on, while acknowledging the following limits, a balanced strategy in realising the localised narratives alongside overarching analyses needs to be recognised to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of intricate dynamics in global art historical discourse.


In conclusion, this journey through the transformative period from 1600 to 1800 and guided by critical approaches and illuminated through works such as Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann’s insights in “The Triumph of Commerce” and the Taj Mahal as well as James Barry’s “The Triumph of Commerce” has revealed profound insights in the complex interplay of art, commerce, and colonialism. As such, Kaufmann’s emphasis on cultural cross-fertilisation, as evident in our analyses herein, helps to expand our understanding of the delicate workings of this era, which emphasises not only the naturally occurring process of artistic creation but also international influences on the same. More research is pressing for the scholars that encourage them to go deep into localised narratives, unravelling specific aspects and contributing further towards the ongoing dialogue on the nuanced dimensions of art history. This research would surely encourage an all-inclusive appreciation of this significant era, transcending the conventional boundaries of art history narratives and accepting diversity as a natural outcome of global dynamics that shaped visual culture during the 17th and 18th centuries.


Gombrich, E.H., 2023. Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation-Millennium Edition.

Kümin, B. ed., (2022). The European World 1500–1800: An Introduction to Early Modern History. Taylor & Francis.

Martin, M., (2022). A Peripatetic Virgin: A Seventeenth-Century Ivory Carving from Manila in the National Gallery of Victoria. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art22(1), 113–127.

Mishra, V.K., (2019). Development of architecture during the Mughal period in India. Jamshedpur research review year 7 Volume 1 Issue 32, p.43.

Ozment, S., (2020). The Age of Reform, 1250–1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe. Yale University Press.

Parodi, L., (2023). The Language of the Taj Mahal: Islam, Prayer, and the Religion of Shah Jahan By Michael D. Calabria.

Schunka, A., (2020). South Asian Ports and Water Scarcity in the Eyes of Seventeenth-and Eighteenth-Century European Visitors. Crossroads19(1), 52–73.

van Gorkom, J. (2020). Immanuel Kant on Race Mixing: The Gypsies, the Black Portuguese, and the Jews on St. Thomas. Journal of the History of Ideas81(3), 407-427.

Von Schlosser, J., 2021. Art and Curiosity Cabinets of the Late Renaissance: A Contribution to the History of Collecting. Getty Research Institute.

Zahra F & Shahir S (2023). ‘Acanthus and Mughal Architecture: Western Influence on Wazir Khan Ornamentation’, Rupkatha journal on interdisciplinary studies in humanities, 15(2), doi:10.21659/rupkatha.v15n2.01.


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