View of the Chapel of Las Lajas, Painted from the Right Bank of the Guáitara River, Túquerres Province


This watercolor by Manuel María Paz (1820−1902) shows the 19th-century Chapel of Las Lajas in the canyon of the Guáitara River at Ipiales, Túquerres Province (present-day Nariño Department), southwest Colombia. The chapel was built here to honor the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary on a laja (flat sedimentary rock or slab). Situated more than 2,600 meters above sea level in the Cordillera Central, the site became a popular place of pilgrimage and was replaced in the 20th century by a Gothic Revival cathedral. The watercolor is typical of Paz’s work, which captured the diversity of the population of Colombia 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.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

Vista de la capilla de La Laja, tomada de la orilla derecha del rio guáitara 41 m sobre el puente del mismo rio, que está 2591 m sobre el nivel del mar: Provincia de Túquerres

Type of Item

Physical Description

Watercolor on paper ; 26 x 33 centimeters

Last updated: September 5, 2014