William Hogarth, “Columbus Breaking the Egg” (1752). This engraving plays up the image of Columbus as a radical, self-willed explorer. (via wikipedia.org) (click to enlarge)

October 12, observed yesterday as a holiday, is most commonly known as Columbus Day in the United States, but is also recognized as Dia de la Raza throughout Latin America, as well as Indigenous People’s Day. Fraught with controversy, the various iterations of this holiday reflect the range of perspectives on Christopher Columbus and his legacies. The Columbus Day of my youth celebrates the heroic “discoverer” of the Americas, playing up mythical stories of his genius on insisting the world was round, and often neglecting the icky bits about the ensuing genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Dia de la Raza, or Day of the Race, recognizes his 1492 arrival as the origin of Hispanic peoples in the Americas, the living results of European and indigenous offspring. Some criticize this celebration of what was for many a forced and unbalanced encounter, and others take it as recognition of ancestral roots, for better or for worse.

October 12, 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival to the New World, marked the first Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People, as declared by a coalition of Native American groups in Northern California, in accordance with ideas discussed at First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance. Several states have since followed suit, getting rid of Columbus Day celebrations in favor of Indigenous People’s Day.

In recognition of this complex history, I present a brief exploration of depictions of Christopher Columbus and interpretations of his legacy in the Americas.

Sebastiano del Piombo, “Portrait of a Man, Said to be Christopher Columbus (born about 1446, died 1506)” (1519). This wasn’t painted during Columbus’s life, but it is the visage commonly associated with him. (via metmuseum.org)

John Vanderlyn, “The Landing of Columbus” (1846). This very heroic painting hangs in the rotunda of the US Capitol building, tying colonialism and patriotism up in one big bow. (via aoc.gov) (click to enlarge)

Dióscoro Teófilo Puebla Tolín, “First landing of Columbus on the shores of the New World, at San Salvador, W.I., Oct. 12th 1492.” (1862). Same image, same motifs, but stronger emphasis on God as a driving force in Columbus’s efforts as he humbly takes a knee. (via wikipedia.org) (click to enlarge)

Lee Friedlander, “Columbus. Bridgeport, Connecticut” (1973). The contemporary status of Columbus, trapped within the annals of history, namesake to countless towns and model for cold monuments. (via moma.org)

James Victore, “Celebrate Columbus 1492-1992” (1992). The skull drawn on the face of the figure suggests both Columbus as implied harbringer of death as well as recognition of indigenous ancestry. (via moma.org)

Felipe Galindo, “The Discovery of Manhatitlan,” used as the cover for his “Manhatitlan,” a part of a larger exploration of the imagined events of Aztec people discovering New York, turning the tables on explorers like Columbus. His “Manhatitlan Codex” animation was discussed on WNYC. (via facebook.com)

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Janelle Grace

Janelle Grace is the #TalkBackTuesday editor of our tumblelog Hyperallergic LABS. In some of her previous professional lives, she's written essays for the...

One reply on “The Many Views of Christopher Columbus”

  1. “A People’s History of the United States”
    by Howard Zinn
    is essential reading
    for those interested in
    the truth
    Christopher Columbus.

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