“There is no such thing as a religious free space!” Richard van Dülmen’s statement at the beginning of the third volume of his book “Kultur und Alltag in der Frühen Neuzeit” is decisive for the answer to the general question of this work, namely “How did the allegories of the four continents come into the village church?” Originating in the courtly world of the 16th century, the iconography had its peak on the walls and ceilings of Southern German village churches around the middle of the 18th century. A quantitative survey discovered 310 allegories of the four continents in 273 different places in the Southern German region. Every second allegory can be found as part of the visual program of a village church. A remarkable density is encountered in the so-called Erdteilallegoriengürtel covering the area of Upper Swabia, Bavarian Swabia, and Upper and Lower Bavaria. The relevant theoretical model used was the one on cultural exchange processes.
During the late Renaissance – around 1570 – humanists developed a new “shorthand” way of representing the world at a single glance: personifications of the four continents Europe, Asia, Africa and America. While the continent allegory as an iconic type had already been invented in antiquity, humanists and their artists adapted the concept by creating the four-continent scheme and standardized the attributes characterizing the continents. During the next 230 years until ca. 1800, this iconic scheme became a huge success story. All known media were employed to bring the four continent allegories into the public and into people’s homes. Within this prolonged history of personifications of the continents, the peak was reached in the Late Baroque, and especially the 18th century. As a pictorial language they were interwoven with texts, dogmas, narratives and stereotypes. Thus the project team find himself asking: What did continent allegories actually mean to people living in the Baroque age?