Departure from the Convent of La Rabida (1492)


"Columbus, mounted on a mule, is prepared to depart from the gate of the convent run by friar Juan Perez, former confessor to Queen Isabella. While sheltering Columbus and his son, Perez was so impressed with Columbus' vision that he wrote to the Queen urging her to reconsider supporting the expedition. Statuettes of Hernan Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico, and the Lady Beatrix de Bobadilla, an attendant of Isabella who befriended Columbus, flank this panel."

The myth and the reality are in relative harmony in this representation of Columbus' trials and tribulations. His friend Juan de Perez did exercise his influence with Queen Isabella, and a new commission, this time experts in navigation, were more inclined to accept Columbus' plans. Yet he was rejected again. Why? Noble notes, "Hernando [Columbus' son] and Las Casas suggested that the stumbling block this time was Columbus himself. As far as most historians can determine, this was the first time Columbus had laid out in detail the compensation he expected. His excessive demands for titles, revenues, and other rewards to follow his success shocked the king and queen." (92) This part of the story is not often told; the image of the little guy triumphing virtuously over great odds is much easier to fit into a national mythos than that of a grasping opportunist.

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