Hernan Cortes

Hernan Cortes

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This engraving shows Hernán Cortés (1485–1547), the Spanish captain who headed the conquest of the Aztec Empire. He became a part of popular mythology the moment he arrived in Mexico around 1520. Cortés had spent time in Cuba killing and enslaving its indigenous inhabitants and administering the new social order of the Spanish colonies of the Caribbean. As his well-read memoirs attest, even his experiences in Cuba did not prepare him for the history-altering intrigues, battles, and cultural encounters between the Spanish and the Mexicans, Mayas, and their many neighbors in between. Motivated by an ancient notion of fame, Hernán Cortés wrote his own version of the conquest of Mexico that put him squarely at the center, favored by the Christian God. But neither his victories nor his pillage of the Mexican capital would have been possible without the aid of soldiers, slaves, and supplies from the enemies of the Aztecs. As a testament to Cortés's enduring fame, his portrait by the Spanish painter Antonio Carnicero was published as an engraving by Manuel Salvador y Carmona in 1791 in the book, Retratos de los españoles ilustres, con un epítome de sus vidas, (Portraits of Illustrious Spaniards, with a Synopsis of Their Lives.)
Description (Spanish)
Este grabado representa a Hernán Cortés (1485-1547), el capitán español que encabezó la conquista del Imperio Azteca. Desde que Cortés arribó a México en 1521 pasó a formar parte de la mitología popular. Había pasado algún tiempo en Cuba involucrado en la matanza y esclavización de los nativos y administrando la nueva estructura social de las colonias españolas del Caribe. Como lo atestiguan sus bien documentadas memorias, ni siquiera sus experiencias en Cuba lo prepararon para las decisivas intrigas, batallas y choques culturales entre españoles y mexicanos, mayas y otros pueblos vecinos. Motivado por el antiguo concepto de fama, Hernán Cortés escribió una versión propia de la conquista de México que lo situó manifiestamente en el centro de la historia, favorecido por el Dios cristiano. Sin embargo, ni sus victorias ni el saqueo de la capital mexicana hubieran sido posibles sin la ayuda de los soldados, esclavos y aprovisionamiento suplidos por los enemigos de los aztecas. Como testamento de la fama perdurable de Cortés, este retrato suyo del pintor español Antonio Carnicero se publicó como un grabado de Manuel Salvador y Carmona en 1791, en el libro Retratos de los Españoles Ilustres, con un Epítome de sus Vidas.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Object Type
Other Terms
print; Intaglio; Engraving
Date made
ca 1795
Cortes, Hernan
original artist
Carnicero, D. A.
graphic artist
Carmona, D. J. A.
Place Made
Spain: Comunidad de Madrid, Madrid
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
ink (overall material)
overall: 35.9 cm x 22.7 cm; 14 1/8 in x 8 15/16 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Colonel and Mrs. Robert P. Hare III
Native Americans
See more items in
Work and Industry: Graphic Arts
Cultures & Communities
Mexican America
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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