Big Picture: A mountain at the heart of art

By Carlos Quijano Altamirano.

When the American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church arrived in Honda, Tolima, in 1854, he had reached mid-point in an adventurous trip of Colombia. Among the many dramatic landscapes the painter from Hudson, New York, would capture during a year- long expedition in the Andes was the Nevado del Tolima. The Nevado del Tolima is located between the Nevado del Ruíz to the north and Nevado del Huila to the south. The snow-capped summits of these three stratovolcanoes are each very different, and for those who have seen them from an airplane window, and sometimes from Bogota? on a very clear and crisp morning, may be able to identify one from the other. Rising 5,280 meters above sea level, Tolima has steep sides and a truncated cone. It last erupted in 1943, and thankfully, since then, has remained dormant allowing high-altitude hikers to attempt the summit. Climbing above the clouds, however, not only requires training, but proper mountain gear as sub-freezing temperatures may cause frostbite and hypothermia.

The Nevado del Tolima may have catapulted Frederic Church to the role of America’s most famous painter and a mountain that made the exhibition in 1859 called Heart of the Andes. Church’s paintings, reminiscent of the German romantic Caspar David Friedrich (1774- 1840),inspired the Hudson River School of artists.

Next time you are in Tolima, think of Church and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt who arrived in New Granada four decades before, because this mountain at the center of 19th century art, continues to generate stunning views, like the photograph Carlos Quijano captured.


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