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Sunday, October 9, 2016


Engraving of Christopher Columbus by Johann Theodor de Bry, 1595
Today is Columbus Day, sort of. Traditionally, Columbus Day was celebrated on October 12th, the day Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World, even though he believed to his dying day that he had discovered a westward route from Europe to India. (Which, by the way, is the reason why Native Americans are wrongly called Indians.) Anyway, because we Americans so love our 3-day weekends, we now shift Columbus Day around to provide us with one each year.
Graphite and watercolor painting of "Land Discovered by Columbus" by JMW Turner, circa 1830-02
Once upon a time it was believed Columbus “discovered” America. That’s what we were taught in school. Now we know there’s documented evidence that the Vikings preceded him by about 500 years. In addition, there’s circumstantial evidence that Portuguese and English fishing vessels crossed the Atlantic back in the 1300s.
"Landing of Columbus" by John Vanderlyn,
commissioned by Congress for the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in 1836
Also, did you know that Columbus never set foot on mainland North America? He never made it past the Bahamas. No one knows for sure exactly where he first landed. He called the place San Salvador. Historians later identified it as Watling Island, but some scholars suggest he actually landed on Samana Cay. On His second voyage he landed near Dominca in the Lesser Antilles, his third landing was Trinidad, and his final voyage landed him on Martinique. (source: "Columbus, Christopher." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia.)
Portrait of a man said to be Christopher Columbus
by Sabastiano del Piombo, 1519
So there’s been lots of discussion over the years about whether or not we should celebrate Christopher Columbus, especially given the reports of how he treated the indigenous people living on the islands he claimed for the Spanish crown. However, he is a legendary figure in both our history and our art, as evidenced by the work featured on today’s blog. No matter how you feel about the man and his place in history, you can certainly admire the art he inspired.

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