Road to Nóvita via Tamaná Mountain, Chocó Province


This watercolor by Manuel María Paz (1820−1902) shows two porters at a narrow bridge over a rushing mountain stream on what the caption identifies as the road to Nóvita via Tamaná Mountain. The porter on the bridge carries a well-dressed man who is reading a book. The porter approaching the bridge from the right carries a pack. The bridge is the trunk of a large tree. In rugged terrain such as this, porters were sometimes the only means of transport for goods and even people. The Cerro Tamaná is a mountain some 4,000 meters high on the western edge of the Cordillera Occidental of the Colombian Andes. Nóvita was the first capital of the Province of Chocó (present-day Department of Chocó) in western Colombia, an area rich in minerals and with very high rainfall. The watercolor is typical of Paz’s work, which captured the diversity of the population of New Granada and depicted the daily activities and traditional customs of the country’s different ethnic, racial, and social groups. Paz was born in Almaguer in the province of Cauca. He joined the Colombian army at a young age and showed exceptional skills as a cartographer and painter. In 1853 he took over the role of draftsman of the Comisión Corográfica (Chorographic Commission) formerly held by Henry Price (1819–63). The commission, which began work in 1850, was tasked with studying the geography, cartography, natural resources, natural history, regional culture, and agriculture of the Republic of New Granada (present-day Colombia and Panama). Paz worked under Agustín Codazzi (1793–1859), the Italian-born geographer and engineer who co-founded and directed the commission. In 1859, at Codazzi’s death, Paz was among the collaborators who took on the task of reviewing, completing, and publishing the work that the Comisión Corográfica had undertaken since 1850. As a draftsman, Paz executed watercolors and drawings that were very exact and strove to represent the places and people of Colombia in a naturalistic and objective style. These pictures constitute invaluable documentary records for the history and culture of Colombia. They also provided information pertinent to drawing up the maps that were one of the main objectives of the Comisión Corográfica. More than 90 paintings by Paz are preserved at the National Library of Colombia.

Last updated: November 16, 2016