History of a Painting

Chapter 1:

A Painting of the Savanna

This document, which can be read both as a map and a painting, was part of a legal proceeding that saw the consolidation of one of the most important haciendas and lineages of the New Kingdom of Granada.
Why was this map drawn?

The Painting of the Lands, Marshes and Swamps of the Town of Bogotá was presented as evidence in 1614 during the legal proceeding brought by the crown attorney of the New Kingdom of Granada against Francisco Maldonado y Mendoza, a renowned encomendero, over the property of lands in the Bogotá Savanna.

What is represented on the map?

The map features the Bogotá Savanna, a high plateau on the eastern mountain range of the northern 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 reached this place in 1536. From that moment onwards, the city of Bogotá became the base of operations of the Spanish Empire in the region, and in 1549 was designated as the seat of the Audiencia of Santafé.

Is it a map or a painting?

The Painting of the Lands, Marshes and Swamps of the Town of Bogotá is a manuscript that works both as map and as landscape painting, and belongs to the genre of legal maps.

Who were the owners of this land?

The hacienda depicted on the painting belonged to Francisco de Maldonado y Mendoza. His descendants obtained nobility titles and the hacienda became the center of the Marquisate of San Jorge.

Chapter 2:

Villages for the Indians

The Spanish created laws to force indigenous people to abandon their former settlements and live in villages (also called reductions) organized around a main square and a church. The objective of the measure was to get natives to give up their former customs.
Why where the Muisca called “Indians”?

Europeans coined the term “Indians” to group the different societies of the New World under a single category. This practice originated during the first travels of Cristopher Columbus. The label imposed many negative stereotypes on native populations.

Why can we see villages on the map?

The towns that today populate the savanna were not always there, but were the result of a project set in motion by the Spanish Empire aimed at making Indians live Catholic lives (what they referred to as “life in good order”).

When did villages start populating the savanna?

The first instructions for the building of villages were decreed by colonial inspector Tomás López Medel in 1559, and placed a large burden on indigenous societies.

How did the Muisca live before the Spanish arrived?

On the map we can see where the “old palisade of the cacique” used to be. The Muisca of the Savanna had ceremonial centers that were known in the sixteenth century as “palisades”. These played an important role in their political organization.

Why does the map include a place called Bogotá and another one called Santa Fe?

The creation of towns was part of a set of measures aimed at creating two separate “republics” with different legal responsibilities: one of Indians living in villages and one of Spaniards living in cities. This is why the “town of Bogotá” and the city of “Santa Fe” appear as different places on the map—the town of Bogotá in what is now Funza, and the city in the place of Santafé de Bogotá.

Chapter 3:

From Terraces to Grasslands

Although in the map we find animals like cows and horses, these were not native to the New World, but were introduced with the conquest. The map shows the transformation of the indigenous agricultural landscape into grasslands for cattle raising.
Were there pigs, cows, chickens and donkeys in the Bogotá Savanna before the Spanish arrived?

Although the landscape in the map is dominated by animals such as cows, sheep, pigs and horses, none of these animals were native to the Andean landscapes.

How did the Muisca grow food in the Bogotá Savanna?

Muisca indigenous people designed a system of ridges that produced elevated platforms used as cultivation terraces in this ecosystem rich in water sources. The terraces, in turn, were traversed by levees that drained excess water and served as fishing canals.

Did the arrival of cattle affect native agriculture?

The introduction of cattle raising following the Spanish invasion changed the landscape of the Savanna forever. The ridge and canal system was not practical from the perspective of ranching. For this purpose, it was more useful to have savannas covered in .

Chapter 4:

A Divided Landscape

This painting was used as a legal document in order to prove a Spaniard’s ownership over a large hacienda in the Bogotá Savanna. Natives were given a resguardo or reservation (a much smaller communal property which they were not allowed to sell), and were forced to work in haciendas. In this sense, this is a map of land dispossession and of the transformation of native agricultural landscapes.
What were resguardos?

Resguardos were communal lands natives could farm. They came about as part of a legal reform of 1593, known as the land compositions. Until then, most lands had remained in the hands of natives.

Could natives work wherever they wanted?

That same year, a position was created for a Spaniard in charge of distributing native labor, telling natives where to work, and regulating the way in which they managed their affairs.

Why is this a divided landscape?

Resguardos were created at a time in which imperial administration defined Spaniards and natives as people with different economic capacities: Spaniards with extensive commercial lands and natives with restricted economies supervised by the imperial administration. Natives lost access to about 95% of the lands available to them for farming before the conquest.

In this sense, this is a profoundly violent map. It is a map of land dispossession and of the transformation of native agricultural landscapes into grazing pastures for Spanish hacienda owners, in which natives were forced to work. The marks left by this process are revealed to us on the map by a few details, such as the place that marks the location of the former cacicazgo, or the small area allotted to the community’s resguardo, in contrast with the large haciendas of the Spanish.

What happened to the villages and resguardos?

Villages and resguardos have had a long and unstable trajectory since the sixteenth century, going through waves of confrontation and resurgence. Most municipalities on the high plateau were former native villages. In the case of resguardos, after many attempts to dismantle them during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Political Constitution of 1991 made it possible for them to become ethnic territories once again and since then, resguardos have offered new possibilities of ethnic autonomy.