Whenever I look at all the amazing landscapes on the second floor of MFA’s Art of the Americas Wing, I’m always drawn to one painting in particular. Cayambe (1858) by Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900) hangs in the corner of a wall just beyond the Museum’s red Salon Gallery. Its contrasting warm and cold tones gives me an emotional, comforting feeling. This oil painting depicts the snow-covered volcano located in Ecuador that crosses the equator. It’s the third-highest peak in Ecuador and one of the highest in South America.
Church was best known as a landscape painter, and was one of many who belonged to the Hudson River school. The members of this 19th-century art movement had been influenced by romanticism and expressed this through their works. In Cayambe, you can see the beautiful tall palm trees on the left filled with coconuts, the crystal-clear waters reflecting the volcano in the center. You can see tropical flowers growing to the right, enhancing the warmth and stillness of the image, and all around you can see large mountains hovering below the volcano, giving the scene movement and depth. You can almost feel the warm, tropical breeze on your face, and you can imagine taking in the sweet and spicy aroma made by the unique flowers and fruits that can only be found in South America and the Caribbean.
As a Latina who enjoys embracing the calmness nature offers, I always find myself gravitating to this painting; it not only reminds me of the beauty of nature, but of my native country, the Dominican Republic, located in the Caribbean. Looking at Church’s Cayambe and seeing a representation similar to my homeland is almost like a warm embrace. It’s as if I were there.
Many of us experienced so many different emotions during the pandemic. I’ve been both stressed and discouraged due to the general fear of being exposed to COVID-19 and the restrictions placed on traveling. These limitations largely forced me to stay close to home, and that’s when I decided to find areas close to me that offered tranquility. I started visiting my local beaches, doing nature walks on trails, and going hiking, and I experienced the serenity nature brings without having to travel far. Now that we’re more than two years into the pandemic and it has become more controlled, many of us have realized how important it is to go outside and experience what nature has to offer.
Church painted Cayambe to illustrate “the diversity and complexity of the natural world.” The painting transports people to a different environment, and encourages them to investigate all aspects of the scenery and dive into the mysteries of nature. I’ll always have art to bring me to far-off places, but lately I’ve realized there’s a whole world of discovery right outside my door too.