Teaching with the Columbus Murals
In autumn 2020, Luigi Gregori’s Christopher Columbus murals, painted between 1882 and 1884 on the second floor of the University’s Main Building, were covered with removable tapestries. This followed an intensive period of discussion, research and reflection across the Notre Dame and regional communities on how best to address a complex narrative that was considered celebratory in the late 19th century but had become troubling by the early 21st century –- especially in its depiction of Native Americans.
Across the United States, innumerable projects related to Columbus were initiated in the 1880s and 1890s related to the 400th anniversary of his historic voyage. Gregori, former artist in the papal household of Pius IX, arrived at Notre Dame in 1874 at the invitation of Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., the University’s founder, to create works for the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. After the devastating fire and rebuilding of the Main Building in 1879, the twelve scenes from the life of Columbus were painted directly on the plaster walls of the new structure.
Removable for study, the tapestries honor the decision to preserve the murals as an opportunity to appreciate the context in which they were created and to understand the University’s history, while respecting the dignity and experience of indigenous people, especially in the aftermath of Columbus’ arrival. Careful attention to detail informed the design of the tapestries which draws inspiration from Christian and Marian imagery as well as the artwork of the Pokagon people native to this region and the plant life they find important. The tapestries were created by Conrad Schmitt Studios, internationally recognized experts in art conservation and restoration.
High-resolution images of the murals can be found at the link below, and the Murals themselves will be displayed at various times during the academic year (more information below). An exhibit about the Murals will soon be installed on the second floor of the Main Building, and a more permanent exhibition about the University’s early history is planned for the Main Building in 2024.
Instructors who wish to utilize the Columbus Murals in their courses are strongly encouraged to use the high-resolution images of the Murals available for download here.
For instructional purposes, the Columbus Murals will be uncovered for two weeks during the 2023 Spring Semester: January 30 through February 3, and March 20 through 24. During these weeks, instructors who use the murals in their teaching are encouraged to bring their students to the Main Building to view the images in person.
Signage in the vicinity of the Murals will indicate that the coverings have been removed for instructional purposes, how long they will be uncovered, etc.
The Murals will also be uncovered for two weeks during the 2023 Spring Semester, with those dates to be announced by December 1, 2022.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to accommodate requests by individual instructors to remove the coverings at other times during the academic year, as the process of removing the tapestries and reinstalling them is quite laborious and time-consuming, involving more than a full day’s effort each time for a team of colleagues from Facilities Design and Operations.
Instructors can direct inquiries to Ann Firth, Vice President and Chief of Staff in the President’s Office (firstname.lastname@example.org).