Conquering ‘Africa’ early 16th century?

Painting by Gaspar de Crayer: Charles V conquers ‘Africa’

One of Winston Churchill’s most inspiring quotes is ‘Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft ‘ *).
Paintings can aid in the study of history too. At least if you do not just superficially look at the image!

De Crayer was a court painter to the governors of what is now Flanders. No doubt he was a great craftsman and a “devoted admirer” of kings, princes and the like. However, what struck me about the painting, even before reading the title, was that apparently De Crayer never saw a live lion and probably no elephant either!
Charles V -emperor and a ‘holy’ one at that- was instrumental in establishing the Atlantic slave trade, but also took a very modest very early step on the long road to abolishing slavery. The latter is certainly not reflected in this painting! On the other hand, the woman here is clearly a kind of personification of Africa and not someone being enslaved. And ‘Africa’ is not referring here to the complete continent.
An emperor, and therefore of course a tyrant. During his time in charge of Spain, ridiculously small numbers of conquistadors defeated rulers in South and Central America. They could because they made alliances with local enemies of the local tyrants. Compared to those tyrants, Charlemagne was a choirboy. Human sacrifice, child sacrifice even, formed a horrific part of the ideology of those tyrants.

*) I used that quote on the assignment page of my book: IS, the Kurds and the Caliphate; Turkey: from sick occupant to paranoid neighbor. It includes extensive studies of (the start of) WWI and of islam.

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