Ferdinand and Columbus

Date: c. 1500
Owner: Library of Congress
Source Type: Images


This image from c. 1500 shows King Ferdinand II of Spain administering the newly discovered lands across the Atlantic that, in this picture, are concurrently being settled by a Columbus-led armada. According to historian Juan Pimentel, the kings of Spain sought detailed knowledge of all aspects of America and its nature, but they did so within a baroque context. The Catholic kings of early modern Spain aimed at nothing less than leading a universal catholic monarchy, one that could be achieved through aggressive, though well informed, expansion. Following the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, in which the Pope granted all lands west of eastern Brazil to Spain, the Spanish Crown could indeed claim rule over what was soon understood to be a vast new continent.

On the other side of the Atlantic in this picture, we see naked Indians fleeing in fear. Indeed, they were wise to do so. After Columbus's second voyage, in which cattle and over 1,000 settlers were exported (with their hitherto unknown diseases) to Hispaniola, Columbus set up a viceroyalty on the island and enslaved well over 1,000 Arawak Indians. 560 of these he sent to Spain. Yet the tenets of Spain's peninsular monarchy, as an ostensibly universal one, provided the same legal protection (at least in theory) to American subjects as Spanish ones, and thus these slaves--except the 200 who died en route--were sent home as freemen. The dream of a universal monarchy continued to fuel Spain's quest for territory and knowledge and was key to developing the infrastructure for processing information, especially the Casa de Indias and Casa de Contratacion, that served to encouraged more knowledge and further conquest.

Pimentel, Juan. "The Iberian Vision: Science and Empire in the Framework of a Universal Monarchy, 1500-1800." In Osiris, 2nd Series, Vol. 15, Nature and Empire: Science and the Colonial Enterprise. (2000), pp. 17-30.

CITATION: Ferdinand II, King of Spain, pointing across Atlantic to where Columbus is landing with three ships amid large group of Indians. ca. 1500. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division: LC-USZ62-43535.