Conquers Nature

Don Quixote and Mount Everest

The Spanish ad on the left domesticates the Singer sewing machine by referencing the famous episode in Cervantes’s novel in which Don Quixote goes to battle against the windmills imagined by him as evil giants. Like in the novel, his spear breaks and he and his horse are beginning to tumble, but the windmill bearing the Singer S-sign has been transformed into a sewing machine stand. The advertisement once again confirms the power of the modern sewing machine, but in this image, it inscribes Spain'’s knight errant, who is hopelessly old-fashioned and a dreamer to boot, not a man of action. Instead of spearheading the spread of modernity, he is overpowered by it.

The image on the right is a poster for an art exhibit in Florence in 1908 picturing "The Conquest of Everest, the Tallest Peak in the World." At the top we see a billboard of the Italian S-Girl, who symbolizes the female domain, toward which the mountain climber below stretches his arms. If the poster was indeed created by the Singer company, its message is ambiguous: who is the object of desire – Everest, seamstress, or Singer sewing machine? All three most likely. Located at the top of Everest, the S-Girl, like the mountain, seems accessible only to the strongest of men, but wasn't Singer's marketing message that the sewing machine is indispensable and always attainable? The underlying point may very well be that the sewing machine has conquered even the most inaccessible global locales. (The handwritten message reads: "Infinite thanks for the beautiful gift. Affectionately, Carolina Gigetti".)