Based on speculative maps, Italian sailor Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) concluded that there was a quicker route from Europe to the growing markets of Asia than was yet known. Instead of heading south and circumnavigating Africa, Columbus proposed to sail west. In the 1480s, Columbus presented this proposal to the monarchs of Portugal and Spain. In April 1492, King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella of Spain agreed to sponsor Columbus’s proposed voyage.
On August 3, 1492, the three modest ships that comprised Columbus’s party, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, set sail. They sighted land on October 12, 1492. The ships landed on Guanahani, an island in the Bahamas. Columbus claimed the land for the King of Spain and renamed the island San Salvador. Believing he had reached the West Indies, Columbus called the natives “los Indios,” or Indians. The members of the expedition returned to Spain triumphantly on March 15, 1493. After receiving a title of nobility, Christopher Columbus immediately launched a larger expedition. On November 3, 1493, this fleet of 17 ships anchored near present day Puerto Rico. His third and fourth voyages set sail in 1498 and 1502.
Columbus's early descriptions of the Americas, as in his “Letter to Luis de Santangel Regarding the First Voyage” (1493), liken the land to an earthly paradise brimming with potential for European colonists. When Americans looked for founder-heroes in the early years of the republic, authors such as Washington Irving (The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, 1828) documented Columbus’s story. Focusing largely on his discovery of the Americas, as opposed to the colonization of the area, Irving and others enshrined Columbus as a hero. His popular reputation ever after became that of the bold, courageous adventurer who enabled American civilization, and he is memorialized here and elsewhere as such.
This sculpture has been described as representing the navigator “standing upon the deck of a ship alone…before the West Continent burst into view,” ship’s tiller in hand, as his “mutinous crew have all deserted him.” Emma Stebbins (1815–1882) carved this colossal marble sculpture in the late 1860s. She was one of several female expatriate artists living in Rome at the time whom author Henry James dubbed “the white marmoreal flock.” The sister of Park Board President Henry Stebbins, she is best known for creating the bronze statue of the Angel of the Waters at the center of Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain.
Merchant and art patron Marshall O. Roberts presented this statue to the Board of Commissioners of Central Park in 1869, but they did not choose to install it. In 1934, it was discovered stored in the 97th Street maintenance yard in Central Park. Parks’s chief consulting architect Aymar Embury II (1880–1966) designed a new stylized limestone pedestal consisting of a fluted column on an octagonal base, and the statue was installed that year in Columbus Park (formerly Mulberry Bend Park) in Chinatown. In 1971, following the renaming of the southern part of Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn in honor of Columbus, the statue was moved to its current location in front of the New York State Supreme Court Building.
Christopher Columbus Details
- Sculptor: Emma Stebbins
- Architect: Aymar Embury II
- Description: Standing figure on base, on plinth
- Materials: Italian marble, limestone
- Dimensions: Figure H: 7'; Pedestal H: 11' Diameter: 3'6"; Base H: 2'6" Diameter: 8'9"; Plinth H: 1' Diameter: 17'3"
- Cast: ca 1867
- Dedicated: 1867 (?)
- Donor: Marshal O. Roberts
- Inscription: CHRISTOPHER / COLUMBUS /
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