The great symbol of American democracy is the Capitol. But it is also a museum where several works of art tell the history of the country. This history cannot be understood without 500 years of Spanish imprint, according to one of the latest reports from the Hispanic Councilan independent think tank that promotes relations between Spain and the United States
Bernardo de Gálvez, viceroy of New Spain, Junípero Serra, founder of nine Spanish missions in Alta California and the conquistador Hernán Cortes are present at the Capitol.
“This is yet another example of the extensive historical and cultural bond that unites Spain and the United States,” says Daniel Ureña, president of the Hispanic Council.
George Washington selected the building’s design in 1793, and it was dedicated in November 1800 for the first meeting of Congress. The building “clearly evokes the ancient
Greece and Rome, which inspired the founders of the United States,” underlines Juan Ignacio Güenechea, researcher at the think tank.
Spanish heritage in the Rotunda
With between 3 and 5 million visitors per year from all over the world, many are unaware of the presence of Spanish heritage. From murals and sculptures to paintings and prints, some works go unnoticed. For example, there is a portrait of Bernardo de Gálvez that the Congress exhibited in 2014. He was a fundamental figure in southern Spain during the War of Independence.
The heart of the Capitol is known as the Rotunda and is home to the funeral chapel of America’s greats. The last to be honored there was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There are also eight large historical prints, one of which is a painting honoring Hernando de Soto, the first European to reach the Mississippi River. His bust appeared on the $10 bill in 1860 and on the $500 bill in 1918. The painting was the last to arrive at the Rotunda.
Another immortalized in one of the eight paintings in the Rotunda is Christopher Columbus. It can be said, in Güenechea’s words, that 25% of the paintings located in space refer to the Spanish heritage of the American expedition. Columbus is depicted with items he wears in the painting, such as the emblem of the Catholic Church. Monarchs and caravels appearing in the background: La Pinta, La Niña and La Santa María.
The American History timeline
The frieze on the roof of the Rotunda reflects 19 major events in American history. De Soto and Columbus appear again, in addition to Cortés and Francisco Pizarro. The Conquistador appears during his meeting with Moctezuma in 1519 and Pizarro in Peru. De Soto’s body appears in the frieze submerged in the Mississippi River, where his funeral took place.
Spanish heritage is also present in the collection of the National Statuary Hall of the House of Representatives. Columbus is the protagonist, witnessing the meetings where the policies and laws of the United States are discussed and debated.