About Diego Rivera's

Revolt and The New Religion


REPRODUCTION: What can I learn about how this reproduction is different from the original artwork?

Revolt and The New Religion are the left and right sections of a mural surrounding an arch over a doorway in the Cortés Palace in Cuernavaca, Mexico. This mural continues down a long wall on the right, as well as on the opposite end wall of a second floor space in the palace. The fourth side of the space, to the left, is an open balcony. The murals in this space are called The History of Cuernavaca and Morelos. They continue on archways that cross the space and in gray paintings below the colorful frescoes. The doorway within the arch gives the viewer of this digitized image an idea of the very large scale of this 13 foot and 11 inch high painting.

Rivera himself reproduced sections of his mural. He painted a movable fresco version of the Revolt image in 1931. That painting is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 1932 he made a lithographic print of the Revolt image.

CONDITION: What can I determine about the condition of the artwork?

The mural is restored periodically.

SUBJECT MATTER: What can I determine about what the artwork depicts, if anything?

Revolt, on the left side of the mural, depicts, in the foreground, a man with a mustache carrying a machete and holding the bridle of a saddled white horse which arches his neck to face the man. The man, identifiable by many as Emiliano Zapata, stands with his foot on the sword on a fallen figure at his feet. The figures in white throughout the mural are dark skinned, have black hair and oval shaped eyes (as does the horse). Several other male figures clad in white, wearing sombreros and carrying farm tools stand behind Zapata and in front of a mass of green leaves. To the right of these men are more figures in white. A barefoot man sits with his arms resting on his knees. His head in inclined forward so that one sees only his sombrero. Behind him are male and female laborers. Women carry children like bundles on their backs, A man leans forward against a rope across his forehead which supports a bale on his back. Three darkly clad figures wielding whips stand above the laborers. Against the blue sky, with buildings in the background, three male figures in white hang from a gallows.

Large leaves drape down over both sides of the actual central arch in the wall that divides the two sides of this mural. A stairway rises to a platform in the center of the painting above the arch. A building with arches stands on the platform. Two clerics stand at the top of the stairs. They hold crosses in their raised right hands. Both wear white and black robes with hoods. The top of the shaved head of the cleric on the right is visible above his lowered hood. Between the clerics and to their right and left are three figures wearing pointed hats who are tied to stakes. Orange flames engulf their feet. A figure bends to tend the fire on the left. A church is visible in the distance behind rows of robed clerics seated in a gallery on the left of the flames. A tree and its leaves separate the burning-at-the-stake scene from the right side of the mural.

The New Religion, on the right side of the mural, depicts, in the foreground, two light-skinned clerics, the crowns of whose heads are shaved, and who both wear robes, one black and white, the other brown. The figure in brown holds a bowl of fruit. Darker-skinned figures surrounding the clerics offering food. A kneeling woman offers a bowl of fruit. A man kneels over the carcass of a deer and kisses the hem of the brown robe. Behind him a kneeling man with a patterned garment kisses the hand of the cleric in brown. Behind that figure stands a man with a patterned blue cloak and matching headpiece, who, with bowed head, offers a bowl to the cleric in black and white. Female figures stand behind the foreground figures carrying baskets of fruit on their heads. Above this scene, dark figures clad in white kneel and stand. One holds his hands in a position of prayer. A light skinned bearded cleric pours water on the head of man kneeling before a baptismal font. The top scene on the right side of the mural depicts buildings in a green landscape. A row of men in white bent under the weight of a wooden beam. Another cleric watches from the right holding a cross in his raised right hand. The trunk of a tree appears at the very right of the mural. It branches over into another mural that continues on a wall to the right.

The grisaille (gray toned) paintings below the mural show conquistadors on the left and a cleric among indigenous figures on the right.

Mural Lesson Index

TOOLS, MATERIALS, AND PROCESSES: What can I learn about how the artwork was made?

Diego Rivera's mural is a fresco painting. Frescoes can be painted with dry pigments directly in the still wet plaster applied to a wall or can be painted with wet paints onto a dry plaster surface.

Many assistants helped Rivera over the months required to paint the fresco. Carpenters built wooden scaffolding. Plasterers covered areas according to Rivera's plan. After outlining the main forms on the plaster surface, Rivera and the assistants under his direction completed the painting, and the scaffolding was removed.

Sensory Lesson Index

SENSORY ELEMENTS: What visual elements do I see?

Simplification of shapes and gradual changes in value (light and dark) make forms seem smooth and solid. Most of the shapes in the mural have curved edges. White, black, browns, and dull greens appear throughout the mural. A few bright colors appear here and there, such as blue in the upper right and lower left, and oranges at the top center. The illusion of depth in the mural is very shallow. Figures are largest at the bottom and smallest at the top of the mural.

FORMAL ORGANIZATION: How do the elements in the artwork work together?

Repetition of forms gives the mural a rhythmic quality, for example in the curves of horses' mane, the sombreros and tools of the peasants behind Zapata, and the leaves over the arch. The top central section is quite symmetrical with its dark arch over the actual arch in the wall, its two black and white clerics at each side of the stairs, the central and flanking flames, and the leaves curving over each side of the arch. This symmetry helps unify the two quite different sides of the mural.

The strong, large figures at the base of the mural help anchor the complex small details above. White curved forms contrasted against darker, duller colors appear throughout and unify the painting. The arched white head and neck of the horse set against a dark background echoes the central arch and draws the viewer's attention to the forceful figure of Zapata.


Diego Rivera was born in the city of Guanajuato, northwest of Mexico City in 1886. He went to Mexico City to study art at the San Carlos Academy in 1906 at the age of ten. When he was twenty he was awarded a scholarship to study in Europe, where he lived and worked for fifteen years. He returned to Mexico on a short visit in 1910-1911.

In 1921 Rivera, after returning to Mexico, Rivera and several other artists traveled to the Yucatán to study Mayan ruins at Uxmal and Chichén Itzá. The next year he visited the Isthmus of Tehuantepec where he made sketches of indigenous people. In 1923 Rivera was appointed head of the Department of Plastic Crafts at the Ministry of Education, a post he held until 1928. While in this position, he and his assistants painted 235 individual fresco panels covering 15,000 square feet. Sometimes Rivera was paid only the equivalent of two US dollars for his mural painting, and so he supplemented his income with easel painting. In November and December of 1927 Rivera traveled to the Soviet Union where he made sketches for a mural in the Red Army Club, which he never painted. Rivera was a long-term (though sometimes expelled) member of the Mexican Communist Party.

In the early 1930s Rivera was invited to paint a number of important murals in the United States: in Detroit at the Institute of Fine Arts; in San Francisco at the Stock Exchange, Art Institute, and City College; in New York at the New School for Social Research and at Rockefeller Center. Controversy surrounded several of these commissions. Some San Franciscans took offense at how Rivera included himself in one of his murals. He painted himself on a scaffold with his back to viewers. A much larger controversy arose when newspapers in New York City reported that Rivera was painting a Communist mural in Rockefeller Center. Even though there had been considerable negotiation about theme and subject matter, Rivera's inclusion of an image of Lenin in the painting came as a surprise to Rockefeller, who asked Rivera to replace the image with the face of someone unknown. After Rivera refused, Rockefeller would not allow Rivera to complete the mural and had it covered with canvas. Rockefeller paid Rivera's commission in full. In February 1934 he had the almost completed mural chipped from the wall. After Rivera returned to Mexico he repainted the mural, Man at the Crossroads, in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. In 1940 he returned to San Francisco to paint a mural at the San Francisco Golden Gate Exhibition.

While in Europe, Diego Rivera married Russian artist, Angeline Beloff (1911 - 21). They had one child who died before reaching the age of two. He was married to his second wife, Guadalupe Marín, from 1922 -27. She was the mother of his two daughters. He married, divorced, and remarried the Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo (1929-39 and 1940-54). After she died, in the last year of his life, he married his long-time dealer, Emma Hurtado.

When Rivera was diagnosed with cancer in 1955, he is quoted as saying "What a damned bother!" and kept on painting. He died in Mexico City in 1957.


NATURAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about the natural environment where the artwork was made?

The state of Morelos is a state in the highlands south of Mexico City with mild temperatures, a wet summer season and a dry winter season. Morelos has rich farmland. It is lower in elevation than Mexico City and has a warmer, subtropical climate.

FUNCTIONAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about how the artwork was used?

This mural and the others in the series at the Cortés Palace, as their title suggests, narrates The History of Cuernavaca and Morelos.

This mural, like others commissioned at this time for public buildings in Mexico, cannot be sold. It is public art. Its clear figures tell a story which can be understood by both illiterates and the educated. It is history for the masses. Rivera willed his art to the people of Mexico. (He died in 1957.)

CULTURAL CONTEXT: What can I determine about what people thought, believed, or did in the culture in which the artwork was made?

After the Mexican Revolution, social change took place in Mexico. Zapata's cry within that revolution had been for land and freedom for the peasants. The Mexican Revolution, like the Russian Revolution which it preceded, addressed the concerns of a large peasant population, which was greatly impoverished within a disastrous economic system.

Popular revolutionary images were sanctioned by the Mexican government. Mexicans took great pride in the Revolution of 1910 and, for the most part, supported the Mexican government and the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) which inherited that revolution.

ARTWORLD CONTEXT: What can I learn about the art ideas, beliefs, and activities that were important in the culture in which the artwork was made?

Diego Rivera learned traditional academic painting techniques and ideas at the San Carlos Academy in Mexico City, where he began his studies at the age of ten. Theodoro Dehesa, the governor of the state of Veracruz recognized Rivera's talent and awarded him, at the age of twenty, a scholarship to study in Europe. Rivera spent fifteen years abroad first in Madrid, then Paris. In Europe Rivera became acquainted with the art and artists and styles of modern art. He studied Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, and Futurism. During this time Rivera painted in many styles including approximately 200 Cubist works. On his trip to Italy he studied Renaissance art. Later in the 1930s, while working on commissions in Detroit, San Francisco, and New York City, he became acquainted with American Social Realism.


MAKER'S INTENTION: What can I learn about why the maker wanted the artwork to look the way it does?

Raquel Tibol, writing in Arte y Politica, Diego Rivera (Mexico: Grijalbo, 1979, p. 27) quoted Diego Rivera as saying "for the first time in the history of monumental [art] painting ceased to use gods, kings, chiefs of state, heroic generals, etc. as cultural heroes.... For the first time in the history of Art, Mexican mural painting made the masses the heroes of monumental art."

Viewer Lesson Index

ARTWORLD VIEWER UNDERSTANDING: What can I determine about how the viewer, patron, or user understood the artwork?

Fellow Mexican muralists expressed their views about Diego Rivera's work. David Alfaro Siqueiros wrote that "during its first years our movement was publicly identified only with Diego Rivera. Mexican painting was Diego Rivera and nothing else." (John Coppola, Rivera: Del tiempo y del color, Long Beach, CA; Museum of Latin American Art, 1997, no page). José Clemente Orozco said that "to talk about Indian, revolution, Mexican Renaissance, folk art, retablos, etc. is to talk about Rivera." (John Coppola, Diego Rivera: Del tiempo y del color, Long Beach, CA; Museum of Latin American Art, 1997, no page).

After the Mexico amended policies to favor U.S. investors in Mexican oil, the capitalist and American Ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow, commissioned Rivera to paint the mural "as an exercise in American diplomacy .... [and as] "a gesture of good will" (Desmond Rochfort, Mexican Muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, New York: Universe, 1993, p. 93).

In his May 1933 argument to President Franklin Roosevelt in favor of the state-funded Federal Arts Project, the U. S. artist, George Biddle proposed that the Mexican mural movement, of which Diego Rivera was a principal member, could serve as a model for democratic art. He wrote that "the Mexican artists have produced the greatest national school of mural painting since the Italian renaissance." (Desmond Rochfort, Mexican Muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, New York: Universe, 1993).

On the other hand, (according to Desmond Rochfort, Mexican Muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, New York: Universe, 1993, p. 8) the British aesthetician, Herbert Read dismissed Rivera and the other Mexican muralists from his book, A Concise History of Modern Painting, for being propogandistic.

CULTURAL IMPACT: What can I learn about how the artwork was understood within culture in which it was made?

John Coppola writes that "perhaps more than any other media or outlet, the murals [Diego Rivera's together with those of David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco] helped create a sense of national identity and purpose among Mexicans. They also helped educate a largely illiterate population about the country's history." (Diego Rivera: Del tiempo y del color, Long Beach, CA; Museum of Latin American Art, 1997, no page).

Desmond Rochfort offers the following interpretation of Revolt and The New Religion:

"The Catholic crusade to convert the Indians is seen as both gentle and forgiving, and cruel and despotic. Mirroring the Aztec sacrifice depicted in the opening sequences of the mural [in another section of the mural] , above the doorway at the end of the cycle Rivera portrayed the burning of heretics during the Spanish Inquisition, as well as the hanging and horsewhipping of Indians by their Spanish masters. The images represent the exchange of one culture's cruelty for that of another, but the final, imposing image of Zapata, accompanied by his white horse, symbolizes liberation from the colonial shackles of conquest, from landlordism and the restrictions of an imposed faith." (Mexican Muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, New York: Universe, 1993, p. 95)

The image of Zapata and his white horse have inspired Chicana/os as well as Mexicans. Here are lines from a poem, "we've played cowboys," by the Chicano poet, Alurista (Floricanto en Aztlán, Los Angeles: Chicano Cultural Center, University of California, 1971, p. 23).

zapata rode in white
campesino white
and villa in brown
on horses
-- of flowing manes


STYLE: How does the artwork look like other artworks?

Diego Rivera's mural exhibits characteristics of the Mexican muralist style, as well as his own personal style. The Mexican muralists, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Diego Rivera, or Los Tres, chose working-class people as their subject matter; they also depicted non-Spanish traditions; and they rejected European models. Rivera's personal style includes massive, rounded forms which he made to seem solid by his gradual changes in value (light and dark). He tended to create an illusion of shallow space, often building his complex compositions up in layers from larger foreground figures below to smaller distant figures at the top of this paintings.

INFLUENCE: What can I learn about how earlier artworks influenced this artwork or about whether this artwork influenced later artworks?

Diego Rivera's interest in mural painting reflects pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican cultures, a number of which left large paintings, such as the large Olmec cave painting at Oxtotitlan, the stucco wall paintings from Tetitla, Teotihucan, or the Mayan wall paintings at Bonampak and at Chichen Ítza. He was also influenced by the popular satire and social criticism of the Mexican printmaker, José Guadalupe Posada.

He is also known to have studied Byzantine, Etruscan as well as Italian Renaissance mural paintings when he visited Italy in 1920 and 1921. He made 300 sketches of frescoes in Italy. He also made sketches of the solid, rounded horses in Paulo Uccello's painting of the Battle of San Romano.

When a student in Madrid Rivera copied paintings by Goya, Velásquez, El Greco, Bruegel and Bosch, which he saw at the Prado Museum. In London he studied the paintings of Constable, Blake, and Turner. In Paris he knew Modigliani and Picasso and studied the painting of Cézanne, Renoir, Gauguin, and Ingres.

As one of Los Tres, Rivera influenced state-supported Depression era mural painters in the United States, including Ben Shahn and Thomas Hart Benton.

THEMES: What general ideas connect this artwork to other artworks?

The theme of history painting unifies Diego Rivera's work with Chicana/o muralists, such as Judith Baca, Juana Alicia, and Wayne Alaniz Healy; and with historical painters in Europe and the United States, such as Goya, El Greco, Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley.

Reinterpretation of the past from the perspective of people other than the rich and powerful is a theme which unites Rivera's work with that of Judy Chicago, Judith Baca, and Jacob Lawrence.

The theme of revolution unites Rivera's work with Latino artists such as, Carlos Cortez, Luis Guerra, Alfredo Zalce, and José Guadalupe Posada, as well as with such European revolutionary artists as Jacques Louis David, Eugène Delacroix , and Honoré Daumier, or today's feminist revolutionaries, such as the Guerrilla Girls.