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Posts Tagged ‘Pizarro

“We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell”*…

 

cabinet_kiosk_9_june_2020_nagel_alexander_01

Artist unknown (Cristovão de Figueiredo?), Hell, Museu da Arte Antiga, Lisbon, ca. 1515. Oil on oak, 119 x 217.5 cm.

 

Naked people are tumbling into the picture through a circular opening at top right, their features immediately blurred by rising heat and smoke. Below, various bodies are being put to the flames, a traditional punishment for those consumed by lust in their lifetimes…

No one knows who painted this depiction of hell, or who asked for it to be made, or even what purpose it served. We only know that it was done in about 1515 in Lisbon. To my eye, the facial types resemble those of the royal painter Cristovão de Figueiredo, who died in 1525. Several of the strange motifs—the figure with bent knee on a crutch, the pig orifice, the spurting fire, the beak-nosed figure, and the albino monster—are closely drawn from a triptych by Hieronymus Bosch that was in Portugal (probably in the Portuguese royal collection) at the time, and now hangs in the same museum as this painting.

Our painting of hell is big, much bigger than you might expect from looking at a photo. It doesn’t fit clearly into any category of picture known at the time. It is an independent panel, not a scene in a fresco cycle that gains meaning from the larger program. It’s not an altarpiece, nor is it a typical private devotional image, which would have been smaller. Its oblong shape suggests it was not part of a larger structure, as in triptychs by Bosch and others, where hell occupies one compartment, one part of a larger statement about human life and the world. This is a big stand-alone painting of a subject that normally didn’t stand alone. The painting lowers you right down to the sub-basement of hell and lets you look. The looking begins as voyeuristic fascination and then sinks into self-reflection…

There had been paintings of hell before, showing people (much like the people for whom the paintings were made) undergoing various punishments for their sins. But this painting no longer represents generic humanity. Here, the tortured are marked as white Europeans, being punished by mostly swarthy monsters with distinctly exotic trappings drawn from the newly encountered inhabitants of the farthest ends of the world—all the way down the African coast, all the way across the (Atlantic) Western Ocean, and, possibly, as far as India. And the punishments seem to concentrate on the sins unleashed by the European expeditions, the sins of rapaciousness: lust, gluttony, and greed. The monks and friars who accompanied these expeditions, tacking missionary work onto commercial exploits, are emphatically included among the damned…

Turning the colonial gaze back on the colonizers, the painting presents the hairstyles of the Europeans, such as the tonsures, in the manner of recent European reports and images depicting the strange hair and stylings of outlandish natives. Here, Europeans themselves go naked, just as bestselling accounts were then describing the inhabitants of America, Africa, and India. Here, white people are the rapacious ones, the lusty ones, the ridiculous ones, and the defeated ones. Two faces, the albino monster to the left and the flame mask to the right, turn toward us as if to say, yes, I know you’re enjoying watching this, and have you considered this might be you?

Some images from the period—just a few—show the costs of subjection and colonization for the native populations of America, Asia, and Africa. Almost none, apart from this one, prod their viewers to imagine the costs for the colonizers themselves…

Alexander Nagel offers a close reading of a remarkable work, a 1515 painting that turns a mirror on its viewers: “Hell is for White People” (much larger reproduction of the painting available there).

* Oscar Wilde

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As we see ourselves in others, we might recall that Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro González died on this date in 1541.  In the event Pizarro was assassinated in the palace he’d built himself to rule over Peru, after he’d conquered the Incas (and executed their leader Atahuapla).  Pizarro’s death was in retaliation for his own murder of an old partner, then rival, Diego de Almagro.

220px-Portrait_of_Francisco_Pizarro source

 

Written by LW

June 26, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Men create gods after their own image”*…

 

cortes_moctezuma

The Meeting of Cortés and Moctezuma (detail), from the Conquest of México series, Mexico, second half of seventeenth century

 

It would become an accepted fact that the indigenous people of Mexico believed Hernando Cortés to be a god, arriving in their land in the year 1519 to satisfy an ancient prophecy. It was understood that Moctezuma (also known as Montezuma II), at heart a coward, trembled in his sandals and quickly despaired of victory. He immediately asked to turn his kingdom over to the divine newcomers, and naturally, the Spaniards happily acquiesced. Eventually, this story was repeated so many times, in so many reputable sources, that the whole world came to believe it.

What really happened when the messengers returned with their report was that Moctezuma sent scouts out to every important town between Tenochtitlan and the coast, and then set up a veritable war room. This is exactly what one would expect him to have done, given his history as a ferociously successful tlatoani who believed wholeheartedly in order, discipline, and information. Years later, a man who had been young at the time remembered: “A report of everything that was happening was given and relayed to Moctezuma. Some of the messengers would be arriving as others were leaving. There was no time when they weren’t listening, when reports weren’t being given.” The scouts even repeated a summary of the religious instruction that was being regularly offered by the Spanish priest and translated by Jerónimo de Aguilar and Marina. When the Spaniards later got to Tenochtitlan and tried to deliver a sermon to Moctezuma, he cut them off, explaining that he was already familiar with their little speech, his messengers having presented it to him in full.

Only one European recorded the events in writing as they were unfolding—or at least, only one account from that time has survived. Hernando Cortés himself penned a series of letters that he sent back to the king of Spain between 1519 and 1525. These are our only existing direct source, all other commentaries having been written years later when their authors were older men and the events deep in the past. And in his letters, written on the spot, Cortés never claimed that he was perceived as a god.

The idea first appeared, albeit in somewhat incoherent form, in some writings by Europeans in the 1540s…

In retrospect, the story of Cortés being mistaken for a god seems so obviously self-serving and even predictable that one has to wonder why it was believed for so long. In a fascinating turn of events, by the 1560s and ’70s, some of the Indians themselves were beginning to offer up the story as fact. The first ones to do so were the students of the very Franciscan friars who had originally touted the idea. The young indigenous writers were from elite families, the same ones who, forty or fifty years earlier had lost everything with the arrival of the Spaniards. And they were longing for an explanation. How had their once all-powerful fathers and grandfathers sunk so low? They were intimately acquainted with both sets of people—their Mexica families and their European teachers. They knew them both too well to believe that their own people were simply inferior, necessarily weaker or less intelligent than Europeans. Their own personal experience taught them that this was definitely not the case.

Here, however, was an explanation. God had been on the side of the Christians, of course; their own immediate ancestors had been trapped by their own loyalty to a blinding faith, tragically imprisoned in their own religiosity…

Camilla Townsend explains why it was believed that the Aztecs greeted Cortés as a deity: “Inventing a God.”

* Aristotle

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As we muse on memes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1533 that Francisco Pizarro completed his conquest of Peru and the Inca, entering their capital, Cuzco.

220px-Portrait_of_Francisco_Pizarro source

 

Written by LW

November 15, 2019 at 1:01 am

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