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American BaroquePearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700$
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Molly A. Warsh

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469638973

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469638973.001.0001

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“Even The Black Women Wear Strands of Pearls”

“Even The Black Women Wear Strands of Pearls”

Assessing the Worth of Subjects and Objects in a New Era, 1540–1600

(p.78) 3 “Even The Black Women Wear Strands of Pearls”
American Baroque

Molly A. Warsh

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter considers the enduring significance of the Caribbean pearl-fishing settlements in the second half of the sixteenth century. In the wake of a devastating tsunami in 1541, the Pearl Coast never again reached the pearl-producing heights of the 1520s and 1530s, yet its complex political economy demanded constant crown attention and recognition of the centrality of black pearl divers to the region’s identity, as evidenced by the royal coat of arms granted to Margarita Island in 1600. This era coincided with the political merger of Portugal and Spain, a contentious political union with profound repercussions for the rules governing the movement of people and products within and beyond Iberian realms. Pearls and pearl fishing, meanwhile, continued to evoke maritime wealth and power beyond Spain, explored in art by painters charged with conveying the wonders of a world in transformation. As royal chroniclers reflected on the early history of the American pearl fisheries with an eye to assessing the errors and accomplishments of the past, crown officials sought to improve their management of these unruly settlements. Meanwhile, enslaved laborers in Venezuela and diplomats in England and Italy continued to use pearls to navigate the changing parameters of their lives.

Keywords:   Union of the crowns, Political economy, Enslaved divers, Royal chroniclers, England, Italy, Art, Venezuela, Diplomats, Pearl Coast

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