Christopher Columbus

Historical Background

Francesco Pedrotti, 1973. 6'h x 2'8"w x 2'1"d
Depicted as a determined and ambitious young man, Columbus holds a map in his right hand while resting his left arm across his chest. He is poised as if making a fervent speech in support of his proposal to reach China by sailing west. Absent from the picture, but whose presence is implied, are the King and Queen of Spain. This memorial relates Columbus to Italy by characterizing him as an explorer and navigator, while ignoring his role as an administrator, colonizer and messenger of Christianity for Spain. Commissioned by 26 lodges of the Order of Sons of Italy in America, the life size bronze statue was executed in Piacenza, Italy and dedicated on Columbus Day, 1973. An early rendition of the work was a 9 foot tall statue standing on a 12 foot pedestal, with a 3-1/2 foot globe resting on a granite base next to the pedestal. This 21 foot tall monument was planned to be installed in the Los Angeles City owned Los Angeles Mall. However, when the $25,000 memorial to Columbus was unveiled in the County owned Civic Center Mall, the size of the statue and pedestal were greatly reduced and the globe was removed.

When Columbus landed at on the island of San Salvador on October 12, 1492, the western hemisphere was occupied from the Aleutian Islands to Cape Horn with descendents of immigrants who crossed the Bering Straits tens of thousands of years earlier. Columbus' arrival in the New World was also preceeded by Norsemen, who reached Newfoundland centuries earlier. However, unlike the earlier journeys, his voyage was the first documented trip to the western hemisphere, and most importantly, it had dramatic, far-reaching and permanent consequences for both Europe and the New World.

Born in Genoa, Italy, Columbus (1451-1506) became a sailor at age 14. During his 20s, he began developing plans to reach Asia by sailing west. In the early 1480s, he presented his plan to the King of Portugal, who, attracted by its possibilities, attempted to carry it out without Columbus. A ship was dispatched secretly but returned after the sailors lost heart. Columbus, angry at the King's betrayal, left Lisbon for Spain. At that time, Spain was in its final campaigns against the Moors and was unable to provide financial support to Columbus. Following the defeat of the Moors at Grenada in 1492, Columbus was commissioned to undertake his momentous voyage. After landing on San Salvador, Columbus continued exploring the Caribbean until January 4, 1493, when he left for Spain, leaving a small colony behind in Hispaniola, which is now Haiti. Later that same year, he returned to the western hemisphere where he remained for nearly three years. During that time, he explored Jamaica and Cuba, suppressed the native population in Hispaniola and started the West Indian slave trade. In 1498, Columbus made his third voyage, exploring Trinidad and landing in South America for the first time. Two years later he was sent back to Spain in chains after accusations were made about his harsh treatment of the native population of Hispaniola. During his last voyage, begun in 1502, Columbus attempted to find a passageway to Asia. After two years of exploration, he returned to Spain debilitated by illness, and died two years later in Valladoled.

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, February 1998.

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