1862: Cotopaxi Erupts


Frederic Edwin Church: Cotopaxi (1862)

Cotopaxi is one of the world’s highest volcanoes, located in the Andes Mountains about thirty miles south of Quito. It has erupted more then 50 times since 1738, the resulting lahars (mudflows) forming numerous valleys around it.

Smithsonian Curator Eleanor Harvey connects the explosive imagery in Church’s painting to the turbulence of the American Civil War: “By 1862 the nation was locked in a bloody Civil War with no end in sight. Journalists, preachers, poets, and soldiers wrote about extreme weather and violent natural events to describe a world that was coming apart at the seams. Volcanoes had become a popular metaphor to symbolize the war’s destructive force. During 1862 Frederic Church worked on his monumental image of Cotopaxi. In this painting the cinder cone of the erupting volcano dominates a panoramic sweep of the Andean plateau. The smoke and ash rolling from the caldera drift down the side of the mountain, nearly obliterating the surrounding landscape.” (source)

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