The Mythology of Christopher Columbus and the Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Discovery of America

Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis


  • Marta Frėjutė



500th Anniversary of the Discovery of America by Columbus, identity, fiction, myth


One of the most mystified personalities in the history of conquests is Christopher Columbus, a sailor from Genova, who is traditionally titled “the discoverer of America”. Over more than 500 years, the historical assessment of this person changed not once and provided innumerable myths and images for the research on the history of conquests. The author of this article focuses on the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus as the object of her research. The aim of the article is to analyse the anniversary as legitimisation of a fictitious identity through festivity and ritual. Through the stories of Columbus’s conquests and the myths of his achievements, she analyses the importance of fiction in building a historical reality.

The author overviews the changes in interpreting Columbus’s biog- raphy and personality along with the changing historical discourses. She also analyses the discussions among scholars, historians, human rights activists, community leaders and artists related to the commemoration of Columbus’s 500th anniversary regarding the meaning of this commemoration for society, and the importance of ethnic emigrant communities in America for the creation and upholding of Columbus’s myth. The text is supplemented with an overview of artworks and films created on the occasion of Columbus’s anniversary of 1992, and related to the reproduction of Columbus’s myth. In the article, Columbus is compared to Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas the Great, whose 500th anniversary of death was celebrated with festive events in interwar Lithuania in 1930, and his myth, which over more than 500 years managed to activate, unite and shape Lithuanian society.

The research reveals how the anniversary celebration establishes historical fiction, and shows the intertwining of personality myths with daily life, identity, ethnicity, reproduction of history and propaganda programmes. Though the worship of Christopher Columbus is gradually moving underground, his monuments are being dismantled in the United States and around the world, the fact that his image is still capable of provoking strong feelings in society illustrates how powerfully personality myths and fictions are intertwined with the issues of ethnicity, individual and community identity, and what a huge impact it can have on them.

Author Biography

Marta Frėjutė

Marta Frėjutė is an artist and a doctoral student of art, currently based in Vilnius. She graduated from the Vilnius Academy of Arts with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s degree in sculpture. The artist has been participating in exhibitions since 2019. Her artistic research explores the boundaries of reality constructed with the help of fiction (myths), the intertwining of myth and memory, and their importance in constructing identity. Combining installation, sculptural objects, simulated museum artifacts, historical texts and sources, as well as personal and archival photography, in her artistic research she questions power relations, colonialist fantasies, intertwined contexts of history construction, and traditional strategies of cultural representation. Her artistic research seeks to rethink the principles of evidence and documentation, which become active agents strongly involved in one’s own memory and identity formation.



How to Cite

Frėjutė, M. (2020). The Mythology of Christopher Columbus and the Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Discovery of America: Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis. Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis, (100), 112–136.