Reverse-painting on glass, a technique with roots in antiquity, flourished in Europe between the 16th and 19th centuries. This reverse-painting panel was made by an unknown artist in Augsburg, Germany, a center of trade and culture during the last quarter of the 18th century.
It is one of a series of four reverse-paintings depicting the “Four Continents,” a popular subject matter in the arts from the 16th through the 18th centuries. The “Four Continents” consisted of America, Asia, Europe, and Africa, each visually depicted by landscapes, people and motifs specific to that part of the world. For Europe, images of cities, royalty, and wealth were common. Asia might be depicted by a camel, an exotic individual smoking, and/or religious motifs, while Africa might include individuals wearing elephant headdresses, scorpions, snakes, and desert scenery. America was usually identified by figures wearing feathered headdresses, carrying bows and arrows, and alligators, as can be seen in this panel.
The subjects of many reverse-paintings are based on images found in printed materials, which were becoming more widely available in the early 16th century because of copper-plate engravings and printing presses. This reverse-painting, called America, is a derivation from a print by the Italian engraver Giovanni Volpato (1735─1803) that was based on an engraving by the Italian artist Jacopo Amigoni (about 1685─1752).