The Four Continents

The Four Continents
Peter Paul Rubens - The Four Continents.jpg
ArtistPeter Paul Rubens
Year1612–1614 or 1615
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions209 cm × 284 cm (82 in × 112 in)
LocationKunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The Four Continents, also known as The Four Rivers of Paradise, is a painting by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, made in the 1610s. It depicts the female personifications of, what, at the time, were believed to be four continents (Europe, Asia, Africa and America) sitting with the personifications of their respective major rivers – the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile and the Río de la Plata.[1] Europe is shown on the left, Africa in the middle, Asia on the right and America behind it, to the left. The tigress, protecting the cubs from the crocodile, is used as a symbol of Asia.[2] The personification of the Danube holds a rudder. The bottom part of the painting shows several putti. Painted during a period of truce between the Dutch Republic and Spain, the river allegories and their female companions in a lush, bountiful setting reflect the conditions that Rubens hoped would return to Antwerp after military hostilities.[2]

The art historian Elizabeth McGrath proposed a different interpretation of the female figures on the painting, believing them to be water nymphs representing the sources of the rivers instead.[3] McGrath also suggested corresponding river names, the Tigris instead of the Danube and the Euphrates instead of the Río de la Plata, arguing that those names also appear in Christian exegesis.[3]


  1. ^ "Peter Paul Rubens. The Baroque artist and Diplomat". Italian Renaissance Art.com. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
  2. ^ a b Lisa Rosenthal (2005). Gender, Politics, and Allegory in the Art of Rubens. Cambridge University Press. p. 41. ISBN 0521842441.
  3. ^ a b Gender, Politics, and Allegory in the Art of Rubens, p. 250

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