About Diego Rivera's
Revolt and The
INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARTWORK
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,
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|
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.
INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARTMAKER
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
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
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.
VIEWPOINTS FOR INTERPRETATION
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
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.
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
and villa in brown
-- of flowing manes
CONNECTIONS AMONG ARTWORKS
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
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,
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.