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“Columbus Before the Queen” by Emanuel Leutze

"Columbus Before the Queen" by Emanuel Leutze

“Columbus Before the Queen” by Emanuel Leutze

“Columbus Before the Queen” by Emanuel Leutze depicts Christopher Columbus as a hero. He is shown commanding the center of the composition, boldly addressing the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella.

Columbus had formulated a plan to seek a western sea passage to the East Indies, hoping to profit from the lucrative spice trade.

Following Columbus’s persistent lobbying to multiple kingdoms, he sought an audience from Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. In 1486, permission having been granted, Columbus presented his plans to Queen Isabella, who, in turn, referred it to a committee.

Like their counterparts in Portugal, the Spanish committee reported that Columbus had grossly underestimated Asia’s distance. They pronounced the idea impractical and advised the Queen and King to pass on the venture.

To keep Columbus from taking his ideas elsewhere, and perhaps to keep their options open, the Catholic monarchs financially supported Columbus’s living expenses. Still, they did not immediately grant the ships Columbus needed.

In frustration, Columbus dispatched his brother to the court of Henry VII of England to inquire whether the English crown might sponsor his expedition. The Spanish court to stall Columbus invited him to return to and renewed discussions.

Columbus waited at King Ferdinand’s camp until Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada, the last Muslim stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula, in 1492. Finally, after more council disagreements, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella agreed to sponsor a journey west. 

They promised Columbus that if he succeeded, he would be given the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea and appointed Viceroy and Governor of all the new lands he could claim for Spain.

Between 1492 and 1504, Columbus completed four round-trip voyages between Spain and the Americas, each voyage sponsored by the Crown of Castile.

On his first voyage, he discovered the Americas. These voyages marked the first European contact with the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

It was the beginning of the European exploration and colonization of the Americas and are thus important to both the Age of Discovery and Western history.

Columbus always insisted that the lands he visited during those voyages were part of the Asian continent, as Marco Polo described.

Columbus’s refusal to accept that the lands he had visited and claimed for Spain were not part of Asia explains, in part, why the American continent was named after the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci and not after Columbus.

Columbus’s later strained relationship with the Crown of Castile and its appointed colonial administrators in America led to his arrest and removal from Hispaniola in 1500.

This situation later led to protracted litigation over the benefits he and his heirs claimed were owed to them by the crown. 

Columbus was widely venerated in the centuries after his death. Still, recently historians’ perception has changed as scholars give greater attention to the harm committed under his governance, particularly the near-extermination of Hispaniola’s indigenous population.

His discoveries marked the beginning of Spanish colonization of the Americas, which brought a new language, a new religion, and an obsession with racial purity to the region.

Many landmarks and institutions in the Western Hemisphere bear his name, including the country of Colombia and the District of Columbia.

Queen Isabella of Castile

Isabella I (1451 –  1504) was Queen of Castile from 1474 and Queen consort of Aragon from 1479 until her death. She reigned over a unified Spain jointly with her husband, Ferdinand II.

Isabella is considered the first Queen of Spain after a struggle to claim her right to the throne. She reorganized the governmental system and married Ferdinand in 1469, creating Spain’s de facto unification.

Isabella and Ferdinand are known for completing the Reconquista and ordering the conversion of the Jews and Muslims in Spain.

She supported and financed Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage that led to the New World’s rediscovery by Europeans and Spain’s establishment as a major power in Europe for more than a century.

Isabella was granted together with her husband, the title “the Catholic”  in 1974 by Pope Alexander VI, to recognize their services to the Catholic Church.

The influence of the Catholic Church is evident in this painting. Also, the background architectural features symbolize the Moorish history of much of Spain.

Columbus by Emanuel Leutze

In 1840,  Emanuel Leutze attended the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany and henceforth became associated with the Düsseldorf school of painting.

His first work, “Columbus before the Council of Salamanca” (1841), was purchased by the Düsseldorf Art Union.

A companion picture, “Columbus in Chains,” procured him the Brussels Art Exhibition’s gold medal. it was the basis of the 1893 $2 Columbian Issue stamp.

In 1842 Emanuel Leutze went to Munich for further study and, while there, finished his “Columbus before the Queen.” 

“Columbus Before the Queen” by Emanuel Leutze

  • Title:                Columbus Before the Queen
  • Artist:               Emanuel Leutze
  • Year:                1843
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:    Height: 38 in (96.5 cm); Width: 50 in (127 cm)
  • Type:               History Painting
  • Museum:        Brooklyn Museum

Emanuel Leutze

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816 – 1868) was a German American history painter best known for his painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware.”

Leutze was born in Germany and was brought to the United States as a child in 1825. His parents settled first in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and then at Philadelphia. 

At 14, he was painting portraits for $5 apiece. Through such work, he supported himself after the death of his father. In 1834, he received his first instruction in art and soon became skilled.

In 1840, one of his paintings attracted attention and gave him several orders, which enabled him to attend the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in his native Germany. 

In 1842 he went to Munich, to study and in the following year, he visited Venice and Rome, making studies from Titian and Michelangelo.

After an Italy tour, he returned to Düsseldorf in 1845, making his home there for 14 years before returning to the United States in 1859.

On returning to the United States, Leutze opened a studio in New York City and divided his time between New York City and Washington, D.C. 

Emanuel Leutze

Columbus

A Virtual Tour of the Brooklyn Museum

Royal Honors for Christopher Columbus 1492

A Tour of History Paintings

“The Departure of Columbus”

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“These people are very unskilled in arms… with 50 men they could all be subjected and made to do all that one wished.”
– Christopher Columbus

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Photo Credit: 1)Emanuel Leutze, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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