Test your knowledge with a quiz
Rothermel, De Soto
- Painted in 1851, Rothermel’s De Soto Raising the Cross reveals more about mid-19th century politics than about Spanish conquests of the 16th century. Proposed for the U.S. Capitol rotunda as part of a series depicting America’s history before the Revolutionary War, this painting presents a sanitized and deeply racist narrative of progress and civilization.
- Completed shortly after the Mexican-American War and the annexation of vast amounts of territory by the United States, Rothermel positions De Soto’s campaign as a historical prototype for American westward expansion.
- The subject of this painting, Hernando de Soto, led the first European expedition in the present-day United States from 1539-42. Although Rothermel suggests a peaceful transformation, de Soto’s military conquest devastated the Mississippian network of Native American towns, cities, and communities. This painting creates an American mythology rather than depicting historical fact.
More to think about
Rothermel’s De Soto Raising the Cross was proposed for a mural in the United States Capitol rotunda, but William Henry Powell’s Discovery of the Mississippi by De Soto was selected instead. How does Powell’s painting perpetuate many of the same propagandistic mythologies about America’s early history?