Images of the World

How were images of the world and ideas of foreignness and otherness negotiated and constituted in nineteenth-century art?

This presentation is the result of a seminar held in the summer semester of 2022 as part of the master’s program at the TU Berlin. The seminar addressed the relationship between global politics and art in the long nineteenth century. It was about how art was used to negotiate and construct images of the world and ideas of foreignness and otherness. Throughout various Berlin museum collections and in reference to other places, like the Berlin Zoo, we examined this question by first and foremost looking at paintings.

Various keywords are listed beneath the titles. They serve to thematically categorize the artwork and, on the other hand, to deliberately disrupt the flow of reading. They can therefore be seen as critical interventions. Moreover, they allow connections to emerge between the individual artworks.

The seminar, which took place in the summer semester of 2022, was run by Freya Schwachenwald and Lukas Fuchsgruber. The website was realized by Meryem Coskun and Julia Reidy (student research assistants in the Museums and Society project) using presentations and group assignments from the seminar.

The participants in the seminar were: Dieu Ly Hoang, Helena Fußeder, Xiaohan Zhou, Rebeka Jovanovska, Antje Lauck, Elisabeth Faul, Lisa Haußels, Julia Reidy, Malena Tschöpe, Shiromi Naskrent, Franziska Everding, Sini-Sophia Kämpny, and others.

Sugar Cane Plantation of San Esteban near Puerto Cabello (1842–5)

#IdeationalAppropriation #TravelPainting #advertising #agriculture

Ferdinand Konrad Bellermann


Dimensions: 27.8 x 41.5

Oil study; oil on canvas

Kupferstichkabinett Berlin

02 Zuckerrohrplantage

Even before the nineteenth century, traveling Europeans were portraying the world in landscape painting. Artists – but also the authors of travel literature – were discussing definitions of the picturesque and the sublime, and thereby formulating cultural and aesthetic expectations of representations of “nature.” “Pristine,” “disappointing,” “transformable”: these and other definitions of nature can be found in paintings and texts, and illustrate viewing habits, power relations, and fantasies of appropriation – especially in the context of landscapes outside of Europe.

This painting is an oil study of a sugar cane plantation in San Esteban by artist Ferdinand Konrad Bellermann. This picturesque image primarily conveys the impression of a paradisaical idyll. Upon closer inspection, however, the painting provides information about the prevailing employment and power relations. What we see is a landscape that has been shaped by agriculture, colonialism, and slave labor, but the idealized way that nature is portrayed here means that we only see this if we take a closer look. The painting was commissioned by trader Ludwig Glöckler. In this context, Venezuelan nature is presented as a place of longing for European business people. Viewed in these respects, this painting can be seen as helping to advertise land purchases in the colonies. Thus, with this picturesque portrayal, the painting suggests a place that is paradisaical and simultaneously economically profitable.

02 Zuckerrohrplantage

Worker, slavery

Nature, idealization, place of longing

Power relations

Staged portrayals of Indigenous peoples

Agricultural engineering, plantations


Sugar cane cultivation

Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland at the Foot of the Chimborazo Volcano (1810)

#PowerRelations #ConstructedReality #IdealizedEnvironment

Friedrich Georg Weitsch


163 x 226 cm

Oil on canvas

Schloss Charlottenburg, SPSG

01 Humboldt Bonpland Chimborazo

Even during his lifetime, Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) was treated as a cosmopolite, world traveler, and as somebody who “understood” the world. His travel literature was widely disseminated, and shaped public and private debates about the arts, sciences, and definitions of the world and the cosmos. He was also a patron of traveling artists and advocated politically for the establishment of a collection of “images of the world” in the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin.

This painting shows Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland on their expedition to Mount Chimborazo. The painting manifests the spirit of discovery of the person who commissioned it. This is revealed in aspects such as the naturalist portrayal of flora and fauna as well as the tools and measuring devices used on the expedition. Alongside the cosmopolitan representation of Humboldt, however, we also see the power relations and group hierarchies at work within the expedition group.

01 Humboldt Bonpland Chimborazo

Idealized representation of nature


Staging, representation of Indigenous peoples

Measuring devices, tools

Power relations, geographical representation of South America

Spirit of discovery, constructed idealized reality

Natural history, botany, documentation, idealization, detailed mode of representing the environment – ethnographic objectives in painting

The Interior of the Palm House (1832/1833)

#staging #IdealizedEnvironment #PhysicalCulturalAppropriation

Carl Blechen

Ca. 1833

64 x 56cm

Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Oil on paper, transferred to canvas

03 Palmenhaus 1

From travel paintings to traveling at home: with the dissemination of representations of the “world” in the nineteenth century, the opportunities to experience the “foreign” “at home” also increased. Fantasies of the “tropical forest” played a special role in the context of Berlin, not just due to the impact of Alexander von Humboldt. In 1832, King Wilhelm III opened a Palm House on Peacock Island, which artist Carl Blechen portrayed in a number of oil paintings. A private corporation operated the “Flora” Palm House in Charlottenburg from 1874 to 1904. It was a place of entertainment with a stage, restaurant, and assembly hall.

Blechen’s painting shows a light-flooded glass room with tropical plants and female figures resembling the traditionally dressed odalisques of this image type. The artwork is an oil study that the artist created alongside many other drawings and that portrays the exotic plants in Frederick Wilhelm III’s Parisian Foulchiron palm collection, for which the King had a palm house built on Peacock Island near Potsdam in 1830 according to plans made by Friedrich Schinkel. The painting is characterized by its warm, harmonious colors and emphasizes the fascination with and physical appropriation of the foreign natural world, in this example a staged, cultivated “jungle.” The additional staging of reclining odalisques in the image underscores the image’s exoticization and Orientalism.

Postcard of the Flora Palm House

03 Palmenhaus Flora
03 Palmenhaus 1

Exoticization, Orientalism, women wearing Indian clothing

Iron glass construction, industrialization, staging

Palm house

Cultivated “jungle” – physical and cultural appropriation

03 Palmenhaus Flora

Feeling of foreignness

Domestic and foreign botany

Staged place of entertainment, commercial use

Wall paintings in the Egyptian Gallery at the Neues Museum

#PhysicalCulturalAppropriation #IdeationalCulturalAppropriation

Friedrich August Stüler


Berlin, Neues Museum


Das Neue Museum in Berlin Eduard Gaertner

Lithograph based on a watercolor by Eduard Gaertner

Likely: watercolor from 1850 and lithograph 1862, appeared in Friedrich August Stüler, Das Neue Museum in Berlin, 1862.

04 Ägyptensaal

The Neues Museum, built in the mid-nineteenth century in Berlin, contained cultural heritage from places like Egypt. In the “Egyptian Gallery,” this heritage was presented in a colonnade hall with paintings on the walls that displayed Egyptian landscapes and architecture from the specific gaze of European painters.

The decoration in the space was an attempt by architect Friedrich August Stüler to recreate the Ramesseum in West Thebes. This architecture formed the exhibition space at the Neues Museum in Berlin for the Egyptian Collection, most of which came from an expedition carried out by Egyptologist Richard Lepsius from 1842 to 1845. The courtyard was divided into a peristyle courtyard in the style of classical antiquity with a gallery above it. The walls of the peristyle were decorated with frescoes with representations of recreated Egyptian monuments. These include the pyramids of Memphis and Giza, and various representations of the Karnak Temples. Within the reproduction, there is also a dedication to Friedrich Wilhelm IV written in hieroglyphs. This architecture constructed an idealized version of Egyptian ruins. This architectural realization was seen to foster harmony between the exhibition space and the exhibits being displayed in it. In the context of Prussian museums, this was an act of cultural appropriation carried out to create a public space of representation and a constructed (idea of the) world.

04 Ägyptensaal

Wishful projection

Egyptian mythology

Public space of presentation, educational mission

Experiencing foreignness

TW Antelope Hunt at Berlin Zoo

#hunters #huntingscene #idealization #violence #AnimalRepresentation #tiles #FantasyRepresentation #orientalism

Paul Meyerheim

1871/72; destroyed 1940; reconstructed on faience in 1986

Antelope House Zoo Berlin

TW Antilopenhaus Zoologischer Garten
Antilopenhaus TW en
IMG 5089

In 1871/72, an “Orientally” stylized building was erected at Berlin Zoo, with a painting of an antelope hunt by the most important animal painter of the time, Paul Meyerheim, hanging above its entrance. What idea of distant regions was produced by the architecture and the painting? How can we interpret the “Orientalism” of the building and the painting in the historical context of the time?

Paul Meyerheim’s wall painting displays an antelope hunt. We see a man on a horse in a steppe landscape. Meyerheim, who had never seen the African continent, constructs an image of Sudan and its inhabitants in his painting that is entwined with racist stereotypes. The Antelope House and Berlin Zoo can be seen as manifestations of a colonial ideology that is expressed in aspects such as the architecture and the artistic decoration of the spaces. This does not just stylize the zoo as a place of entertainment but also presents it as an imperial demonstration of power

IMG 5089

Canvas reproduction on tile

“Primitive weapon”

Half-naked, muscular hunter – eroticizing, racializing representation

Dead antelope versus the living antelope at the zoo – European salvation narrative

Site: Antelope House at the zoo, room for imperialist representation

Fictitious hunting scene, artist had never been to the African continent

Lion at the Watering Hole

#ConstructedReality #AcademicRealism #PowerDemonstration #colonialism

Wilhelm Kuhnert


Oil on canvas

61.5 x 98.5 cm

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

06 Kuhnert W Löwe an der Tränke

Berlin painter Wilhelm Kuhnert was a representative of the animal painting generation that came after Meyerheim. He had a direct connection with colonialism as he spent time in Africa as a hunter and traveling painter. He was, for example, involved in the suppression of the Maji Maji Rebellion, which he also put on canvas. A colonial position of rule and the associated feeling of entitlement express themselves in Kuhnert’s representation of the landscape and animal world of East Africa, for which he uses the supposedly realistic, artistic depiction of nature. In Kuhnert’s works, actions, travel writing, and diary entries, we see the matter-of-factness with which the artist laid claim to East African nature for his works and the kind of romanticized gaze with which he lived out his own role as a colonizer.

The painting shows a lion sitting at a drinking hole. Stylistically, it can be categorized as academic realism. Kuhnert appropriates the nature and animals of Africa in his painting and uses them to heroize self-portrayals and to demonstrate colonial power. This is revealed, for example, in the way his works were exhibited in the context of political representation. For example, during the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, his works were exhibited in the section on German East Africa; they were also shown at the 1903 German Colonial Hunting Exhibition in Karlsruhe.

06 Kuhnert W Löwe an der Tränke

Hunting perspective vs. painting perspective, the painter himself was a hunter

Animals in their habitat, prey

Claim to reality, staging


07 Jagdausstellung
07 Jagdausstellung

Advertising for colonies

Hunting trophy

Self-portrayal, heroization

TW Tigers Fighting over the Body of a Javanese Person

#AnimalRepresentation #FightScene #aggressivity

Raden Saleh


Oil on canvas

190 x 261 cm

Belvedere Vienna, on permanent loan to the Weltmuseum

TW Raden Saleh
Saleh TW En
08 Saleh

In contemporary Indonesia and Singapore, Raden Saleh Syarif Bustaman (1811–80) is considered a modernist trailblazer and is frequently celebrated as a national hero. The artist spent almost twenty-five years in Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, living in Dresden, Coburg, and Gotha for extended periods of time, where he was accepted in society as an “Oriental prince.” He adapted to the Orientalist beliefs of Dresden’s art aficionados and staged himself and his works in that light. In Germany, he gained fame due to his exoticizing representations of animals. In Indonesia, on the other hand, his proximity to the Dutch colonial powers was often viewed critically. Saleh worked as both an animal and history painter.

This painting presents a Romantic idea of the Orient and was gifted by the artist to Emperor Franz Joseph, who had awarded him the Franz Joseph Order in 1870. In 1871, it was exhibited at the Austrian Museum of Art and Industry. Saleh’s work of 1870 was loaned to the former Viennese Ethnology Museum as a portrayal of a slain native in the former Dutch colony. During his time in Dresden, where he lived and worked for several years, Saleh created a number of works with an Orientalist character. This included exoticizing animal representations. The painting shows staged, aggressive representations of violence and death and exaggerates the emotionality of fighting tigers. This motif, which does not correspond to reality, reproduces racist stereotypes.

08 Saleh

Idea of the Orient in romanticism

Staged emotionality of animals

Aggressivity/attack – representation of violence; racism, death

Self-Portrait as a Tahitian (1934)

#identity/belonging #gender #feminism #sexuality #colonialism #romanticization #PerceptionOfSelfAndOther

Amrita Sher Gil

Oil on canvas

90 × 56 cm

Neue Galerie Kassel

09 Sher Gil

In Self-Portrait as a Tahitian, Amrita Sher-Gil uses her body in a citation that she painted one year after she finished her studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In response to the staging of “exotic” sexuality in the works of Paul Gaugin, and by incorporating non-European forms into the European image tradition, she holds a critical mirror up to Western viewers. Instead of assuming the reserved position of the muse, the artist takes the role of the subject as well as that of the author, through which she stands in opposition to the gaze of white colonialism.

As we can infer from the title, the painting is a self-portrait of the artist that displays Sher-Gil from the hip in a three-quarter portrait. A white cloth covers her hip, while the rest of her upper body is completely naked. She crosses her arms in front of her hips with her hair in a long black ponytail, her lips are full and red, and she gazes to the left of the viewer, where we see the shadow of a male-looking figure. The background also picks up on figures reminiscent of Japan, namely a sitting man and two women in kimonos, as well as a pagoda-like building and the outlines of a Japanese courtyard. The impetus for Sher-Gil’s works and her self-portrait came from the works painted by French artist Paul Gauguin during his travels through Tahiti. The design elements with Japanese motifs and characters allude to the so-called Japonism movement. Alongside Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh was another artist who included Japanese motifs in his paintings, which also inspired Sher-Gil.

09 Sher Gil

Japonism, inspiration from van Gogh

Naked body, upright posture – confident feminist self-portrayal

Female vs. male gaze, response to Gauguin


The traces left behind by the colonial past often go unnoticed, even though they still influence how we perceive the world. This is revealed in language, among other things. In order to come closer to producing a critical portrayal and to reproduce as few discriminatory stereotypes as possible, this glossary presents the origins, history, use, and problematics of some terms.


“Enthusiasm for Egypt, especially after the expeditions funded by Napoleon Bonaparte from 1798 to 1801; influenced fashion, architecture, the fine artists, and handicraft.” [1]

Spirit of discovery/scientific expeditions

In the colonial context in particular, “the project of amassing extensive collections of objects was a central component of scientific expeditions. The objects were to be used to obtain and convey insights into human nature and the various ways that people live. This also included everyday or even religious objects, which is why anything that travelers classed as interesting was traded, bought, and stolen.” This led to local inhabitants having their culture expropriated or ritual and fetishized objects being decontextualized for the public European museum space. [2]


“Originating during the period of colonialism, the Eurocentric worldview understands ideas, values, and ways of life that originated in European countries. [...] Eurocentric actions are characterized by dominant, proselytizing, ‘correct,’ or other behavior trying to change people and countries that are (presumably) living according to different value systems or social systems. Moreover, Eurocentrism describes the predominance of Western, white perspectives in science, politics, and economics.” [3]


The term exotic is used in Eurocentric and colonial thinking to describe plants and animals, but also people (generally people of color) to whom difference is attributed, particularly with regard to appearance and names. [4] (Cf. Eurocentrism)


“Imperialism designates the ambitious expansion and systematic development of a state’s economic, military, political, and cultural areas of power and influence in the world. The age of imperialism is considered to be the period between 1870 and 1918, during which, e.g., the European powers (GBR, FRA, BEL, PRT, DEU) divided Africa up between themselves.”[5]


An artistic staging can – particularly in the Eurocentric, colonial context – present a distorted or even false portrayal of a lifestyle, history, or group. Racist stereotypes can be entrenched through artistic visual language. This is accompanied by idealizations and projections. (Cf. “Picturesque” and “Stereotype.”)


Japonism is the appropriation of elements of Japanese culture into Western – in particular French – art. Japonism influenced impressionism, Art Nouveau, and Jugendstil. [6]

Cultural appropriation

“Cultural appropriation is taking over the intrinsic components of another culture for oneself. This can relate to clothing, music, food, but also art. Criticism is usually leveled when it is the culture of a minority that is being appropriated. Minorities are population groups that are socially, politically, economically, or militarily oppressed” and are significantly affected by racism, as people who appropriate things from a culture that is not their own do not experience the associated discrimination. [7]

Male gaze

In art, the male gaze refers to representations of female bodies from a male, heterosexual perspective. The male gaze takes shape in objectifying and sexualized portrayals of women. The feminist theory of the female gaze can be considered a response or the antithesis to the male gaze. The female gaze is about taking leave of heteronormative, male gazes in artistic research. [8]

Maji Maji Rebellion

The Maji Maji Rebellion began on July 20, 1905. It was a rebellion carried out by the local population in the former colony of German East Africa against foreign German rule and oppression. German troops brutally suppressed the uprising. It is estimated that around 250,000 to 300,000 people were killed during the war and as a result of its impact. The rebellion officially ended on February 18, 1907. [9]


The concept of Orientalism can be traced back to Edward Said’s 1978 volume Orientalism, in which he addresses the way European authors constructed the Orient. The “Orient” is the counter-construct to the “Occident.” In the Western fine arts, Orientalism expresses itself in stereotypical representations of various regions. This conveys exoticizing, racist perceptions, that can be seen as an attempt to legitimize European imperial and colonial aspirations. [10]


“We speak of othering when a group or a person demarcates itself from another group by describing the group that is not its own as other and foreign. This generally happens when there is a power imbalance: the peopled who are othered are affected by discrimination and therefore have few opportunities to defend themselves against the attribution.” [11]


This concept has its origins in English landscape painting. It describes a mode of aesthetically perceiving a natural scene that resembles the compositional aesthetics of a painting or image (origin: “like a picture”). This is also accompanied by the construction of landscapes and narratives that convey the impression of natural representation but that have been designed according to preconceived ideals (both aesthetic and social) and therefore create a new “imagined reality.” In her book Under the Banyan Tree, Romita Ray describes how this form of imagined environments also affected European representations of colonies. [12]


Primitive derives from the Latin word primitivus, which has a meaning akin to first-born
or first of its kind. In European thought, it became a synonym for the racialized and temporal “Other,” that is, for groups of people who were equated with life in the distant past and who were denied qualities that were viewed as European, in particular, certain ideas about progress and rationality. [13] (Cf. Stereotype)


“Racism is the process in which people are constructed, hierarchized, and excluded as homogeneous groups due to actual or supposed physical or cultural characteristics (e.g., skin color, country of origin, language, religion). Classical racism claims that certain groups of people are unequal due to their supposed biological differences […]. Neoracism attempts to justify inequality by positing supposed differences between ‘cultures.’ Racism is the sum of all behaviors, laws, definitions, and worldviews that support the process of hierarchization and exclusion. They are based on unequal power relations.” [14]


“Stereotyping is the process through which constructed social groups are ascribed a few, heavily simplified characteristics. The people classified into these groups are therefore reduced to their attributed belonging to a group and those properties. This effaces any common ground between and differences within the constructed groups. Stereotyping defines the ‘essence’ of the constructed groups and the people categorized as belonging to those groups and, in turn, declares that the attributed characteristics are the result of the ‘essence’ of the constructed group. Attributed characteristics and behavior are therefore essentialized and naturalized.”[15]

[1] museum-digital Berlin 2020. URL: (last accessed September 15, 2022).

[2] Cf. virtual exhibition of the project “Colonialism and Museum,” Universität Hamburg: Colonial backgrounds: The Museum of Ethnology (MARKK) Hamburg, Hamburg 2015. URL: (last accessed September 15, 2022)

[3] Berlin Biennale, Messy Glossary, Berlin 2022. URL: accessed September 15, 2022)

[4] Cf. Glossary of Terms from A to Z, in: Words Matter, An unfinished guide to Word Choices in the Cultural Sector, p. 107.

[5] Schubert, Klaus/Martina Klein: Das Politiklexikon. 7th updated and expanded ed., Bonn: Dietz, 2020.

[6] Dean, Martin “Things you Need to Know about Japonisme” in: (last accessed November 8, 2022).

[7] Cf. Schabenstiel, Tina: Debatte um kulturelle Aneignung, Nuremberg 2022. (URL: (last accessed September 15, 2022)

[8] Jahn-Sudmann, Andreas; Kaczmarek Ludger: gaze/male gaze in: Lexikon der Filmbegriffe: https://filmlexikon.uni-kiel.d... (last accessed September 20, 2022)

[9] “Vor 115 Jahren: Der Maji-Maji Aufstand in: Bundesamt für politische Bildung: (last accessed September 8, 2022)

[10] Lexikon der Geographie: Orientalismus in: (last accessed September 20, 2022) / Edward Said: Orientalism XXXX 1978

[11] Wörterbuch: Othering in: Diversity Arts Cultures, https://diversity-arts-culture... (last accessed September 22, 2022)

[12] Ray, Romita: "The Picturesque Prism. Refracting India.” In: Under the Banyan Tree: Relocating the Picturesque in British India. New Haven: 2013, p. 3.

[13] Cf. Modest, Wayne, and Lelijveld, Robin (eds.) 2018. Words Matter, Work in Progress I. National Museum of World Cultures., p. 132.

[14] Glossary: Rassismus, in: Informations- und Dokumentationszentrum für Antirassismusarbeit e.V.: (last accessed September 15, 2022)

[15] Glossary: Stereotypisierung, in: Informations- und Dokumentationszentrum für Antirassismusarbeit e.V.: (last accessed September 15, 2022)

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