Columbus’ Landing – A Turning Point

The year 1492 marked the beginning of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Similar to the patronage of Renaissance artists, early European explorers found funding from wealthy figures and royal families who wished to discover vast wealth without risking their own lives. Columbus’ first successful journey aboard the Santa Maria, alongside the Pinta and the Niña, claimed the shores of the modern-day Bahamas for Spain and established a trade relationship with natives. The voyagers next reached the shores of Cuba and Hispaniola and established the small settlement of Villa de la Navidad before some of them returned to Spain in 1493.

This initial voyage proved a successful investment for the Spanish Monarchy and fueled dedication to further exploration. Spain established early ties to what became Latin America and their involvement in the region influenced local culture in the years to come. Without the financial investment of Ferdinand and Isabella in Columbus, Spain might not have established their influence on the network of Latin American trade in the centuries that followed.

The Columbian Exchange, named after the explorer that made it possible, consisted of the trade between the Americas and Europe. The interweaving of the two continents circulated a new variety of crops and goods which ultimately contributed to an increase in population for both regions. However, diseases that previously afflicted Europeans fell upon the natives of the New World and over the span of 150 years accounted for an 80-95 percent decline in the populations of Native Americans. The widespread and rapid death of natives in the New World fueled an already established feeling of superiority within European circles, which ultimately lead to the exploitation of native peoples that followed.


Landing of Columbus.jpg
John Vanderlyn’s Landing of Columbus (c. 1836) portrays Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the West Indies in 1492. The painting includes the other men that voyaged with Columbus who carry the banner of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella with great pride. Natives are portrayed naked and looking on in astonishment from the nearby woods, which acts as a clear indication of the strongly implied superiority of Europeans upon arrival.

 

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