Digital History>eXplorations>Spanish Discovery of the New World> Artistic Deciptions of the Discovery of the New World

Artistic Depictions of the Discovery of the New World

Compare and contrast two artistic depictions of the Spanish discovery of the New World.

Click to enlarge image.

Landing of Columbus on the Islands of Guanahani, West Indies, 1847.
John Vanderlyn (1775-1852)
U.S. Capitol Rotunda
The Disembarkation at Veracruz, 1951.
Diego Rivera (1886-1957)
Fresco
National Palace, Mexico City

Questions to ask:

About the Vanderlyn painting:

  • How does Vanderlyn depict Columbus?
  • What does this image say about the motivations behind Columbus's voyage?
  • How does the time that the image was created shape its depiction of Columbus's landing?
    What events were taking place in 1847?
  • What does the location of the painting tell you?

One commentary on this painting states:

"John Vanderlyn's Landing of Columbus at the Island of Guanahani, West Indies, October 12th, 1492 (1847) dramatizes Weir's themes of divine determinism and origin still more deeply. While members of his train sink to their knees in the sand, Columbus ignores the surly bonds of earth and looks toward God, the cross directly behind him and close to his head. As in the Embarkation, movement is crucial to this painting. Columbus's wake, the earth-bound souls behind him, starkly contrast with his lofty ideals: the Indians cower and worship to his right, and from the left everything ascends towards the explorer, whose vision and banner lead us away from the scene itself. The banner, a symbol of European might and imperialist expansion, precedes Columbus himself, who is depicted as a mere standard-bearer for forces much larger than human agency."

from Powell's De Soto and United States History
http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/DESOTO/empire.html

Read an account of the Landing by Washington Irving

About the Diego Rivera painting:

  • What characters does Diego Rivera include in his painting?
  • How does he represent these various figures?
  • What does the image tell us about the artist's attitude toward the Spanish Conquest?
  • How does the time that the image was created shape its depiction of the Spanish landing at Vera Cruz?
  • What does the location of the painting tell you?
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