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“If These Walls Could Talk”: A Virtual Tour of the Hispanic Division’s Cândido Portinari Murals

(This is a guest post by Giselle Aviles, reference librarian in the Hispanic Division.)

The magnificent Hispanic Reading Room of the Library of Congress is the only reading room in the Jefferson Building with 20th-century murals gracing its walls. The murals depict four different episodes of the encounter and exploration of the Americas. They are also an important symbol of the historical relationship between Latin America, specifically Brazil, and the United States. The pandemic prevents us, temporarily, from visiting the Jefferson Building and viewing the murals in person, so we have found another way to share these treasured artworks with you.

A portion of “If These Walls Could Talk” virtual tour.

Many of us in the Hispanic Division have spent the past year exploring ways to share the Library’s digital collections with you. As part of those efforts, we have created a Story Map, “If These Walls Could Talk.” It provides a virtual tour of the brilliant murals in the Hispanic Reading Room painted by Brazilian artist Cândido Portinari (1903-1962). The Story Map includes descriptions and high-resolution images of the murals, biographical information about the artist, and numerous Library resources that will guide you to related information.

Why are these murals in the Library of Congress?

Writer and poet Archibald MacLeish, the ninth Librarian of Congress, invited Portinari to paint the four murals. Thanks to a joint commission by the governments of Brazil and the United States, arranged through the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, with Vice President Nelson Rockefeller at the helm, Portinari traveled to Washington, DC and completed the murals in 1941.

A portion of “If These Walls Could Talk” virtual tour.

Amidst the international tensions of World War II, and in concert with the Good Neighbor Policy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Library of Congress sought to facilitate a cultural exchange that could help strengthen hemispheric understanding and a Pan-American perspective. These murals in the Library of Congress are evidence of that effort.

Take a virtual tour and share your thoughts!

Research orientations and tours in the Hispanic Reading Room often begin with a brief explanation of the murals—and many questions from visitors who want to learn more about them and the artist who painted them. Our Story Map tour is virtual and is available for viewing all around the world. We would like this blog post to serve as a platform for an exchange of thoughts and comments about the paintings.

The work of painter Portinari inspired his friend, poet Nicolás Guillén, to write a poem in his honor, “Un son para Portinari” (1953). (You can listen to Nicolás Guillén read several of his poems via the PALABRA Archive.) Do Portinari’s murals or the murals of other artists inspire you to create something of your own? If so, please tell us about your project in the comments section below or tell us what you think about the murals: What stories do you see in the paintings? What are your thoughts about the different figures? How about the artist’s technique? Are you a fan of murals? Are there any murals in your city or town? Please share your ideas with us!

Useful Links

Explore the Hispanic Division Research Guides—we’re adding more all the time!

Listen to recordings of writers from all over Latin America, the Iberian Peninsula, the Caribbean, and other regions with Hispanic and Portuguese heritage populations in the PALABRA Archive.

Continue your research with the Handbook of Latin American Studies.  HLAS includes descriptions of books, journal articles, book chapters, conference papers, maps and atlases, and e-resources.

Subscribe to 4 Corners of the World – it’s free! – and the world’s largest library will send you cool stories about its collections from around the world!

Luminarias: Celebrating Latinas Who Inspire Us

To commemorate Women’s History Month, we celebrate Latina Luminarias–Mexican revolutionary soldaderas; activists Jovita Idar, Luisa Moreno, Sylvia Rivera, and Antonia Hernández; librarian Pura Belpré; singers Celia Cruz and Joan Baez, and writer Kali Fajardo-Anstine–women whose leadership and achievements lit the way and inspired others to follow their own bright paths.

Myths and Realities of the Pre- and Post-Conquest Indigenous World: New Avenues of Mesoamerican Ethnohistory

In recognition of National Native American Heritage Month, this bibliographic essay on Mesoamerican ethnohistory by Bradley Benton and Peter Villella for the Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS) explores Indigenous life and cultures, particularly Aztec and Maya, before, during, and after the Spanish conquest.

Hispanic Audio Archive Rebrands as the PALABRA Archive and Releases New Recordings

Effective September 2020, the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape (AHLOT) will become the PALABRA Archive. With the new brand, the Library of Congress marks this archive’s transition from an analog archive to a digital one. Fifty new audio recordings from the PALABRA Archive will be made available for online streaming.

Shout Out to Young People Learning in El Monte, California

Thanks to a partnership with the Upward Bound program at Harvey Mudd College and the Georgetown Internship project, the Hispanic Division at the Library of Congress enjoyed the pleasure of working virtually with four high school students from El Monte, California this summer.

The Legacy of Writer José Donoso

(The following is a post by Georgette Dorn, Chief of the Hispanic Division.) On Dec. 7, 2016, the Hispanic Division honors the great Chilean writer José Donoso on the 20th anniversary of his death. I recorded Donoso on three different occasions for our Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape — twice at the Library of […]

Beyond Carnival, Samba, and Soccer: Brazilian Fiction at the Library of Congress

(The following is a post by Marília Costa, Researcher in the Hispanic Reading Room, and Talía Guzmán-González, Reference Librarian in the Hispanic Division.) You are probably familiar with the postcard images of Brazilian beaches, the country’s soccer stars, and samba music. Now it’s time to get to know the contemporary literature of one of Latin […]

Celebrating Poetic Freedom: Rubén Dario

(The following is a post by Juan Manuel Pérez, Reference Specialist, Hispanic Division.) Through 2016 Nicaragua and the Spanish-speaking world have been celebrating the 100th anniversary of the death of one of Latin America’s greatest poets, Félix Rubén García Sarmiento, universally known as Rubén Darío (1867-1916). His poetry ushered in a literary movement known as […]

Brazil’s Popular Groups Collection: Primary Resources from Grassroots Movements

(The following is a post by Talía Guzmán-González, Reference Librarian, Hispanic Division.) Since 1966 the Library of Congress’ overseas office in Rio de Janeiro has been collecting publications by civic grassroots and political organizations, government agencies and NGOs in an effort to document Brazilian social movements and provide primary resources to researchers. This collection of […]

An Interview with Award-Winning Novelist Juan Gabriel Vásquez

(The following is a repost of an interview conducted by Catalina Gómez, Reference Librarian, Hispanic Division. This interview originally appeared as part of the Interview Series of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress.) Juan Gabriel Vásquez was born in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1973. He is the author of seven novels, including […]