Landing of Columbus in the New World (1492)

Lunette

"The large lunette shows Columbus claiming the island now known as San Salvador for Spain. Columbus, in the center of the composition, raises his sword and the royal standard; a cross is raised behind him. The central group of Columbus and his men is balanced by another group of Columbus' men in a small boat at the left and by the natives hiding behind the tree at the right."

This panel is quite reminiscent of John Vanderlyn's The Landing of Columbus (1846) situated just steps from the doors in the Rotunda. The triumphant Columbus takes San Salvador in the name of God and the rulers of Spain. But where exactly is San Salvador, called Guanahani by its inhabitants? The question is a matter of great debate amongst Columbus scholars. That he did not land on the North American mainland, and hence did not discover America per se, is without question. What is in question is exactly where in the Caribbean he did land. Some argue for Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands, others suggest Watlings Island, while the current push is for recognition of one of the islands in the Bahamas as the first landing site. The ambiguity surrounding this important element in the Columbus story is another example of the ease with which the story can be manipulated to the ends of the society telling it.


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