Néstor Ponce de León

The Columbus Gallery
The 'Discoverer of the New World' as represented in Portraits, Monuments, Statues, Medals and Paintings
Historical Description.

New York: N. Ponce de Leon, 1893.

Table of contents

[page iii]

[page iv]



[page v]


Having, for a period of some years, investigated the subject of the portraits of Columbus, and embodied the results of my inquiries in an address recently delivered before the American Geographical Society, I feel myself better able than many others would be to form an opinion of the value and extent of Mr. Ponce de León's labors in this difficult field of inquiry. I have read in manuscript a large part of his work—I think nearly the whole of it, or, at least, sufficiently to ascertain the facts that he has brought together and the conclusions he has based upon them. As respects the facts, his labor has been most exhaustive. He has, in my opinion, ascertained everything that is now within the reach of the most diligent scholar. He is an accomplished linguist and has had the advantage of being able to read the works consulted in the language in which they were written, and has not been compelled,as many investigators are, to depend upon translations. This is of value, for I have found in my own investigation of this subject passages not only translated imperfectly, but, in some cases, so erroneously, as to be misleading. As to his conclusions, I found to my surprise—and I suppose it has been equally so to him—that although our investigations were conducted and our respective productions prepared entirely independent of each other, that we have arrived generally at the same results; so much so, in fact, as to give the appearance, in different parts, as if the one had been written from the other. During my acquaintance with him of some years, and as fellows of the Geographical Society, we have frequently conversed upon the subject of the portraits of Columbus, and in preparing my address I asked him—as he was especially competent to do so—to give me his opinion of the character of Columbus that I might give it in the address, in connection with that of others, upon this much contested question. In our mode of investigation, however, and in what we have respectively written, we have, as I have said, worked independently, and it was not until our labors were completed and [page vi] what we had written was ready for publication, that I found how much we agreed in the results arrived at.
I make this statement, as my own production is prior in point of time, having been delivered as my annual address before a society of which I am the President, and it is now printed in the Journal of that society. I felt that it was due to Mr. Ponce de Leon that no reader of his book should get an impression that he was in any way indebted to my prior publication, and that he should receive, as he is entitled to, the full benefit of the extensive researches he has made and the conclusions he has founded upon them.
In giving him the high praise which is due to him for his labors, I regret that he did not include in this book what he says in his preface he contemplated in respect to the general subject of Columbus. He is the best informed gentleman with whom I have conversed upon everything relating to the great discoverer, and whatever he may give to the public.upon that subject will be reliable and valuable.
March 29, 1893.

[page vii]


It was my original intention, when I undertook the publication of this book, to have it embrace not only a complete Columbian Iconography, but also a series of essays bearing upon the most important events in the life of the Discoverer of our Continent. That portion of the book, however, relating to the portraits, monuments, statues and paintings, has become so extensive that I have been compelled to leave for a subsequent work the treatment of those interesting particulars which embrace studies concerning the place where Columbus was born; the date of his birth; the facts known or supposed to be known about his life before he entered the service of the Catholic Kings; the persons who protected him, and their participation in the enterprise; the source from whence were derived the funds employed in the first expedition; his relations with the brothers Pinzon; the place of his first landfall; his administration of the lands discovered or colonized by him; the causes of his imprisonment; the place and date of his death; the resting-place of his remains; his character; and, finally, many other points of less importance about his life which have been hidden under a thick veil until our time, when some historians and critics, after many efforts, have been able to partially raise it, and throw true light on some of those much controverted questions. My object was to present in this work all their discoveries, but I found this field to be so wide that it is even more extensive than the book I now offer to the reader.
As I have written this book in a language which is not my native tongue, and as I am fully aware that my knowledge of all its intricacies is rather deficient, I have called to my aid the services of a former officer of the British Army, who, besides being a graduate of the Oxford University, is a professional journalist, and has occupied important positions here on some of the best reviews and magazines,—Mr. A. C. Stevens, who has revised all my copy and corrected its numerous errors. With great pleasure I take advantage of this opportunity to tender him my best thanks for his most useful services.
[page viii] I also wish to acknowledge the kindness of many other persons to whom I am equally indebted for pictures, descriptions and notes referring to the subject. Among them I must especially mention Ex-Chief Justice Charles P. Daly, President of the American Geographical Society; Mr. William E. Curtis; the Editor of the Cosmopolitan Magazine; Mr. George C. Hurlburt, Librarian of the American Geographical Society; Mr. Wilberforce Eames, of the Lenox Library; Mrs. Helen C. Conant; and Messrs. Ernesto de Zaldo, Benjamín Giberga, Arturo Cuyás, Juan Romeu, and N. Hammelberg, of this city; Mr. Charles F. Gunther, of Chicago; Messrs. Carlos I. Párraga, José M. Ramirez Arellano, José S. Jorrín, and Héctor de Saavedra, of Havana, and finally Mr. Nicolás Dominguez Cowan, of the City of Mexico.
NEW YORK, APRIL 1, 1893.

[page 1]


FOUR centuries have scarcely elapsed since Columbus set his foot for the first time on American soil, yet dense darkness already covers almost every one of the most important acts of his life. Although it may be considered as positive that he was born at Genoa, there is not a single trustworthy document in existence which proves it in an incontrovertible manner, and over twenty different places contend for the honor of having been his birth place.
The date of his birth is also unknown, and is a point on which there is a great diversity of opinion among historians: some fix it in 1430, others twentysix years later, in 1456, and each one of them alleges in defence of his opinion reasons which to all appearances are well-founded.
Nobody can explain in a satisfactory manner his career during the long period preceding his entering the service of the Catholic Kings. The source of the funds employed in fitting out the petty squadron with which he achieved his great discovery has given rise to a multitude of absurd fables and stories, the most important of which is that which refers to the pawning of the jewels and ornaments of Isabella the Catholic, a tradition the falsity of which has been shown in the most positive manner by Mr. Cesareo Fernandez Duro, one of the most competent authorities on this point, a great admirer of the famous Queen, and than whom no greater champion of the glories of Spain can be found.
The type and size of the vessels with which the great undertaking was accomplished is also a matter of doubt. It is likewise disputed and, in my opinion, it will never be positively known, which was the spot of the first landfall. The exact date of his death is still uncertain, the house in which he died is unknown, and even the resting place of his remains is a matter of contention! Such was the indifference of his contemporaries to the glory of [page 2] the man who accomplished the most wonderful discovery ever dreamed of by the human mind, the man who rent the veil which shrouded the Sea of Darkness and revealed to an astonished Old World a New World hitherto unknown!
How could we expect that ungrateful generation to have taken the trouble to preserve for posterity, either on board or canvas, in marble or bronze, the lineaments of the unlucky navigator, who, forsaken by those whom he had benefited and enriched, died at a miserable inn in Valladolid, when none of the contemporary writers, not even his personal friend, the historian and first Chronicler of the Indies, Peter Martyr, deigned to mention in his works the date of the death of the illustrious Admiral?
The grand figure of Columbus, his genius, his unhappy life, the ingratitude with which he was treated by those whom he had made powerful and rich, have ever awakened in me the greatest interest and the deepest sympathy. In the course of my studies on the history of my country, I have had occasion to investigate many of the obscure or dubious facts relative to the life of the Admiral, and although I am not a hero-worshipper, nor do I consider Columbus an indispensable factor in the history of humanity, yet I admire him as one of the greatest men who ever existed, and who, if not the hero, the martyr or the apostle depicted by the mystic Roselly de Lorgues, is very far from being the pirate, thief, coward and forger, represented by his unjust detractor, the distinguished American writer, Aaron Goodrich. In truth, judging Columbus with strict justice and according to the moral canons of his times, he is entitled to be considered as one of the best and purest men of that period of ferocity and demoralization.
One of the many points which I have carefully investigated has been the personal appearance of the Admiral. In vain have I tried to find some portrait or monument representing him more or less trustworthily. I have in my collection very nearly five hundred so-called portraits of Columbus, many of which are taken from statues, etc., and I have examined, perhaps, double this number. They differ so widely that they cannot, under any circumstances, represent the same man.
After a very careful examination, I have found that they can be reduced to about thirty-five or forty types, of which the others are copies with greater or lesser changes.
The pictures and statues of Columbus may be divided into three great groups, to wit:
First. Pictures and engravings that were, perhaps, taken from life at different periods of his career, and copies of them which are more or less variations from the originals.
[page 3] Second. Pictures, engravings, statues and bas-reliefs executed by their authors in strict accordance with the descriptions of the Admiral which his contemporaries have left.
Third. Imaginary pictures, engravings and statues by various artists or socalled artists.
I will, hereinafter, present copies and descriptions of the most important among them; but I believe it would be well to transcribe now the descriptions of the Admiral left by Peter Martyr, Oviedo, Las Casas, and Ferdinand Columbus, or whoever it was that compiled the Historie published under his name.
Peter Martyr describes him "as a man of tall stature, ruddy color, wellbuilt and of good appearance."
Oviedo (Book II. Chap II.) says he was "a man of good stature and aspect, tall, rather than medium-sized, of vigorous build, with brilliant eyes, and well proportioned as to the rest of his face; very red hair and with a face somewhat ruddy and freckled; gracious when he wanted to be so, full of ire when his passions were roused."
Las Casas (Historia de las Indias, Book I. Chap. II.) says: "As to his exterior person and corporal proportions, he was tall rather than mediumsized; the face long and commanding; aquiline nose, light eyes, complexion fair, tending to a deep red. The beard and hair when he was a young man were fair, but very soon turned white on account of his many toils; finally, in his person and venerable aspect, he presented the appearance of a person of high position and authority and worthy of all reverence."
Ferdinand Columbus, his son, in (Chap. III.) of the book attributed to him, says: "The Admiral was a man of good appearance, above the medium height, with long face and somewhat prominent cheek-bones, and of average weight. He had an aquiline nose, light eyes, fair complexion and very ruddy. When a youth his hair was fair, but at thirty years of age it had all turned white."
I will not transcribe the descriptions of Gomara, Benzoni and Herrera, as they wrote a long time after his death, and did nothing more than copy from Peter Martyr, Oviedo, Las Casas and Fernando.
Any picture not agreeing with these descriptions, must be immediately rejected as apocryphal and absolutely worthless. Continue