In History, Captions Often Do Not Match the Picture


In Theodor De Bry's "Indians
Planting Corn
" (1590), the field

is a quilt or rows of dominoes,
and the natives also resemble

nothing like themselves. The men
wear loincloths and bend over the sod

with round-tip shovels that seem
to have melted in the heat. The women

with short fringed skirts walk in a semi-
circle as though around an invisible

maypole, their hands holding seeds,
making cupped gestures. Why do they look

like Venus rising from the foam, ringleted
hair cascading over napes and shoulders?

I do not see a single Indian here. Or
the artist has made them victims

of body-snatchers. The only brown tint
is from the ink of the engraving or yellowed

parchment. Only the woman in the foreground
displays both breasts in the way that either

heathens in need of saving do, or
alabaster goddesses with no arms.

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