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Painting or Map
This canvas from 1614 belongs to two different genres: landscape painting and map. Although it was made to serve as evidence in a legal trial over land ownership, the manuscript is not a simple outline, as used to be the case with maps at the time. Instead, it delves into the artistic terrain with its singular use of color, its elaborate designs and the inclusion of the signature of the author, Juan de Aguilar Rendón. These three elements tell us that the author was interested not only in showing the distribution and use of land for the trial, but also in creating a piece that could be appreciated for its aesthetic qualities.
Dispute over Lands
In 1603, Francisco Maldonado y Mendoza was accused of having defrauded the monarchy by buying large and fertile terrains at a very low price, and was taken to court. The purpose of the painting was to illustrate the land to allow the court to judge if the accusation was true or if Maldonado was right in claiming that the land was nothing more than a barren wasteland. Annotations such as “useless marsh” or “swamp land” were fundamental to the development of the trial. The court ruled in favor of Maldonado and ratified his rights over these terrains.
The Village of Bogotá
Although Colombia’s capital was known for a long time as Santafé de Bogotá, on the painting we find two different places: the “village of Bogotá” (today the town of Funza) and the “city of Santa Fe” (today Santafé de Bogotá). This is due to the fact that the creation of villages was a policy designed to instate two different republics, spatially distinct and with different legal responsibilities: one republic for Indians living in villages and one for Spaniards living in cities. The separation of the two republics was never fully achieved in practical terms because villages had very active economies involving Spaniards and mestizos, and also because many natives lived in cities.
African Grass
With the introduction of cattle raising in the Bogotá Savanna, the landscape was modified to fit the interests of cattle farmers. The grasslands depicted in the painting, therefore, are likely not of the same kind that cover the savanna today. In the eighteenth century, ranchers encouraged importing African grasses that provided better yield for cattle raising. The introduction of African grasses in the New World, nevertheless, can be traced back to an earlier date, when they were used in making the beds in ships for the slave trade.
Land Dispossession
On the painting we can see a dramatic reduction in the area occupied by native farmlands, in comparison to the vast pasture lands of the hacienda of Spaniard Francisco Maldonado y Mendoza. In this sense, this document is essentially a map of land dispossession, and of the transformation of the agricultural landscapes of native societies.
Ridge System
Before the arrival of the Spanish and the introduction of their methods of farming and breeding, the Muisca that inhabited the region organized and made use of water sources through the ridge system. This system consisted of raised platforms that served as terraces for growing food. They were traversed by levees that brought many benefits, such as draining excess water so that the terraces could be sowed and serving as fishing channels.
Villages for the Indians
The villages depicted on the map, such as Fontibón or La Serrezuela, were built as part of a project with which the Spanish Empire sought to compel natives to live Catholic lives and to “forget their former rites and ceremonies”. As a result, natives were forced to abandon their homes and resettle in villages organized around a main square and a church, and drawn as a grid. This process was known as the “reduction” of the natives.
the scale of the map
Unlike modern maps, which ensure accuracy by maintaining a constant scale throughout the image, the Painting uses a multiple, flexible and variable scale. The center of the map —which represents the territory in dispute between Maldonado and the crown attorney— uses a more precise scale, while the edges are much more variable, allowing the observer to see relatively remote landmarks, like the city of Santafé and the towns of Fontibón and Madrid.
the colors of the map
Although we do not know the origin of the paints used on the map, the production of inks and colors was a complex craft involving vegetable and animal pigments that were then transformed into paint through processes with rich cultural significance. We have evidence that the Muisca and other native groups used a wide palette of blue, red and brown pigments they applied to designs on textiles, rocks and other surfaces. For this reason, it is possible that some of the colors used on the Painting were native paints.
Cattle in the Americas
Throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Spain developed a cattle culture around the raising of cows, sheep, goats and pigs which depended on the use of horses and dogs to control livestock that was allowed to roam freely. After being introduced into the New World, these species quickly flourished, easily adapting to an environment lacking in natural predators. Meanwhile, other less wanted species such as the Norway rat, which had come on the ships of the settlers, also multiplied.
Francisco maldonado y mendoza
Maldonado y Mendoza was born in Spain in 1551 and moved to Santafé de Bogotá in 1583. In 1586 he married Jerónima de Orrego, daughter and sole heiress of conquistador Alonso de Olalla. That year, Maldonado y Mendoza began buying estates in the Bogotá Savanna and receiving lands awarded by the Spanish Crown. By the mid-1590s, Maldonado y Mendoza was not only the encomendero of the indigenous community of Bogotá, but owned one of the most prosperous cattle haciendas of the New Kingdom of Granada. On the painting, we find evidence of this in the depictions and labels of some of the spaces of the hacienda: Mill of Don Francisco, steer yard of Don Francisco, estate of Don Francisco, and so on. His heirs held on to his power and wealth for over two centuries.
City of Santafé
This map/painting depicts the Bogotá Savanna, a high plateau on the Eastern Range of the Andes in present-day Colombia. In the early sixteenth century, the Savanna was occupied by Muisca indigenous people, of the Chibcha linguistic family. A Spanish expedition led by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada came to this place in 1536. The city of Bogotá would then become the center of operations of the Spanish Empire in the area, and in 1549 it was declared as the seat of the Audiencia of Santafé.
Old Palisade of the Cacique
When the Spanish arrived, the Muisca were organized in farming societies with many levels of political hierarchy, and its leaders lived in ceremonial places surrounded by logs of wood and decorated with paintings on cotton fabric of different colors and styles.
Road as Ridge
The map labels the road as a “ridge”. This particularity reminds us of the fact that many native and colonial roads in the Savanna were built as raised platforms so that they would remain dry in rainy seasons. To this day people call many tracks and roads in the Savanna “ridges”.
Pigsty of the Cacique
Native societies in the New World had domesticated many animals, among which dogs, turkeys and ducks. In the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes, they also raised camelids such as lamas and alpacas, used as pack animals and for their wool. The inclusion in the map of the pigsty and the grazing land of the cacique proves that natives also integrated European animals into their economic activity. This was the case with chickens and sheep, the latter used for their wool in order to replace cotton and produce blankets at a lower cost.
Claims of the Natives
“[…] we come before you to state the troubles and destructions we have suffered in our town in the form of damages to our crops. There is a neighbor named Agustín Vela with over two hundred mules and horses, bovine cattle and donkeys in our reservation. Before we can harvest our misery which is wheat, maize, barley and truffles, he brings in his tame and wild mules and destroys [our crops] having many lands […] maliciously fattening his mules with our grain […]” Natives of Turmequé, 1672.
Construction of Villages
“The buildings of the village should be built in such a way that the square is placed in the middle in reasonable proportion, and from it, all streets should branch out with their building lots according in number to the amount of inhabitants, and the building lots and houses will be of a size, with their yards […], so that first and foremost the villagers can join in building their Church on one side of the square, the altar facing east and of a grandeur and size proportional to the village and somewhat larger, and on the other side build the house of the cacique and lord with reasonable grandeur, and on the other side the house of their cabildo and the jail, and on the other, the houses of the nobles, and behind them, along the roads, the rest of the building lots […]” Tomás López Medel, 1559
Natives in the City
“Having understood the disorders and excesses seen in this city of Santafé de Bogotá due to male and female Indians, mestizos, and mulattoes that are without a master to serve and for this reason are found idle and like vagabonds, which often results in grave damages and problems […] and wanting to provide aid to this as you see fit so as to put an end to such disorders […] I name him administrator of the said Indians and mulattoes […]” Instructions for the Administrator of Indians of Santa Fe, 1594.
Francisco Maldonado de Mendoza

Francisco Maldonado de Mendoza. Anonymous, 18th century. Courtesy of the Colonial Museum, Bogotá.

Votive figure in goldsmithing (Muisca)

Votive figure in goldsmithing. Cordillera Oriental - Muisca. Date: 600/1600. Courtesy of the Gold Museum (Bogotá).

Aerial photo of a ridge (1956)

Flight C-778, Photo 869. Place and date of creation: Bogotá, 1956. Recovered from: Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi, Bogotá.

Village of Suta

Village of Suta, 1803. Courtesy of the General Archive of the Nation, Bogotá.

Village of Guasca

Village of Guasca by Fray Manuel Félix de Velasco, 1758. Courtesy of the General Archive of the Nation, Bogotá.

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Browse over the map zooming in and out to know more details.

This is the Painting of the Land of Bogotá laid over a present-day map of the area. The overlay is approximate, given that the scales of the painting and the present-day map do not fully coincide.

This is a skewed version of the Painting of the Lands of Bogotá we put together to show the difference between the scale it used and the scale we use today. This is how the Painting would look if we made its scale to coincide with the scale of our present-day map.