Columbus Day

No American holiday is as controversial as Columbus Day.  Over 500 years after Christopher Columbus’s voyage to what was then the “New World,” celebrations often turn into protests.  Since Christopher Columbus was from Genoa in what is now Italy, Italian-Americans use the holiday to celebrate their heritage. Native Americans and others decry the exploitation of their peoples by the European colonizers.  We can all give some thought to history today. I am repeating some material from a previous post of mine for Columbus Day.

Remember the ditty, “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue?” Just two years after Christopher Columbus’s  voyage, in the year 1494, the Renaissance artist Pinturicchio apparently added images of the Native Americans described by Columbus to a fresco in the Vatican. Columbus called the people he met “Indians” because he mistakenly believed he had reached the East Indies, source of coveted treasure like silk and spices.

Detail of fresco showing Native Americans
Detail of fresco showing Native Americans

News reports on the frescoes vary.  Either the images were more or less overlooked for the past 500 years, or they were uncovered in a recent cleaning of the fresco. The images are difficult to see.  They appear at the top of the open tomb.

Pinturicchio "Resurrection of Christ"
Pinturicchio “Resurrection of Christ”

The fresco, titled “Resurrection of Christ,” was commissioned for the rooms to be occupied by the newly-elected Pope Alexander VI.  This Pope was the former Spanish cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, so his rooms came to be called the “Borgia Apartments.” All the great powers in Europe at the time were much interested in the so-called “New World.” Of course, we now know that a big part of the interest in “the New World” was in exploiting the people and the riches to be found there.  But seeing this fresco gives us a little insight into the excitement in Europe over the new discoveries.  And over time, after many mistakes and abuses, a “New World” of freedom and democracy really was created.

I first read about this discovery in The New York Times, http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/06/early-images-of-american-indians-found-in-a-vatican-fresco/. I have to thank Kathy Schiffer, in her blog “Seasons of Grace,” for coming up with the full image of the fresco.  Her article is at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kathyschiffer/2013/04/first-ever-painting-of-native-americans-discovered-in-the-vatican/.

Today, in the midst of a government shutdown frustrating to everyone, the Statue of Liberty has reopened.  The reopening is timely.  In spite of grievous mistakes made by our country, past and present, and by European colonizers in the past, the United States still stands as a land of freedom and opportunity. The Statue of Liberty is still a cherished symbol of what America offers. An article about the reopening is at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/14/nyregion/statue-of-liberty-reopens-as-other-sites-stay-empty.html?_r=0.

 

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