Giving New Worlds to the World   Giving “New Worlds to the World”
Portugal in the 16th & 17th Centuries


by K. Kimberly King

Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries

Long before Google Earth, GPS, and gigabytes girdled our globe, Portuguese explorers using then-cutting-edge technology of redrawn maps, sun-tracking astrolabes, and lighter ships networked the world’s first connectivity 500 years ago. That initial wave of globalization landed Lisbon, capital of a nation then numbering just a million, as nerve center of the commercial world. Its version of the worldwide web – and objets d’art thus circulated – is celebrated in the Smithsonian’s star exhibit, “Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries.”

Museum-goers virtual and real can ply the high seas of discovery, docking at five Sackler Museum modules and a sixth in the National Museum of African Art, to survey – via 250 objects in an exhibit six years in the making – the dramatic interplay of Portuguese influence on newly discovered ports and peoples, and, in turn, foreigners’ effects on the homeland and Europe at large. Guest curator Jay Levenson, director of international programming at New York’s MoMA, labels the legacy of the Portuguese Empire: “Bringing people together… and creating cross-cultural art.”

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