‘The Return of the Indian Raid’ by Argentinian artist Ángel della Valle is wide and majestical in its scale and presence in a room at the Bellas Artes Museum in Recoleta.
We went looking for Argentine masters and this pretty much fits the bill as Argentina’s ‘first genuinely national work of art’ – specifically painted for the Chicago World Fair in 1893 to celebrate the 400thanniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World.
Apart from being masterfully painted – the white horse in the middle of the composition comes at you out of the picture – it depicts a really interesting and little known (outside of Argentina) period in the colonisation of this land by the Spanish in the early 16thCentury.
Américo Vespucio was the first European to arrive near the Argentine coast in 1502, with Diaz de Solís reaching the Río de la Plata in 1515 – with a colony founded in Buenos Aires in 1536, abandoned after so many deadly Indian attacks and then rebuilt in 1580. The local indigenous people were largely nomadic, some were farmers, but nothing compared with their distant cousins and probable rivals, the Incas to the north and the Mapuches over the Andes in Chile.
Horses, though native to the Americas, have long been extinct on the continent, so it was the Spanish who re-introduced them. As with North American Indians, it wasn’t until the early 19thCentury that the indigenous peoples by hook or by crook took to riding (and stealing) horses. This incredibly dramatic painting vividly depicts the major challenge of the colonial settlers of the time, battling the long frontier wars against the peoples of the Argentine Pampa who naturally fought back against these foreign invaders but, alas, were in the end no match for the diseases that the Spanish brought with them.
‘The scene unfolds at dawn, when a storm just begins to clear. The horsemen carry chalices, censers and other religious items showing that they’ve just looted a church… severed heads can be seen on the saddles of the horsemen… and one horseman is carrying a semi-unconscious white woman as his captive’.
It’s an awesome picture (the central rider and ring-leader seems blinded, bandages wrapped around his bleeding eyes – does that mean something? Ant) and has really intrigued me as to the origin and culture of the native inhabitants of this country. Surprisingly there’s little information to find online – largely glossing over the basics then launching into the early Spanish conquest, the ‘extermination’ of the indigenous peoples and then the glorious building of the country in the name of Spain.