HTC Talks: Between Potosí and Saxony: Visualizing architectural systems of colonial resource extraction

Elizabeth J. Petcu
Between Potosí and Saxony: Visualizing architectural systems of colonial resource extraction

This paper compares images of architectural systems for mining in the Viceroyalty of Peru and sixteenth-century Central Europe to uncover a global, visual discourse concerning what is now called “resource extraction.” I set in conversation Inca and Iberian images of Potosí—the most productive silver mining site globally until the eighteenth century—and compare them with the prints of Europe’s first comprehensive treatise on mining and metallurgy, Saxon physician Georgius Agricola’s On the Art of Metals (1556). I argue that Agricola’s artists drew from images of Potosí to visualize mining architectures, and that machines pictured in On the Art of Metals would in turn revolutionize mining at Potosí, thus fortifying a system of colonial resource extraction that extended across the Habsburg world. I thereby establish that images of architectural systems and European colonial resource extraction existed in symbiosis, laying foundations for exploitive and environmentally disastrous forms of resource extraction—as well as legacies of colonialism—that reverberate today.

Elizabeth J. Petcu is a Lecturer in Architectural History at the University of Edinburgh. Her research and teaching examine the intersections of visual and scientific inquiry in the architectural culture of the early modern world, particularly the Holy Roman Empire and the Viceroyalty of Peru. Petcu’s research has been supported by the German-American Fulbright Commission, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst (DAAD), and Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. She has published in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, and 21: Inquiries into Art, History, and the Visual. Petcu’s first book, The Architectural Image and Early Modern Science: Wendel Dietterlin and the Rise of Empirical Investigation, is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.