Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Mexico and Central America, 1800–1900 A.D.

Central America
New Spain, 1535–1821
Republic of Mexico, 1823–present
New Spain, 1535–1821
United Provinces of Central America, 1824–38
Independent states, 1838/41–present
New Spain, 1535–1821
Republic of Colombia (part of), 1821–1903


Encompasses present-day Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Hispaniola, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Puerto Rico

Following the Mexican declaration of war in 1810, protracted fighting erupts cross the country until Independence is won in 1821. War leaves Mexico in a state of disorder and deterioration; slowly the Mexicans begin building their social and political infrastructure to make way for republican government. This process is interrupted by a U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846; by the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), Mexico cedes a large portion of its northern territory to the U.S. In the mid-1850s, important steps are taken in the democratic evolution, including a new constitution that separates church and state (in effect until 1917). Under the leadership of the first Indian president of the Americas, Benito Juárez (1806–1872), Mexico drives the French out and founds a democratic republic that survives until Juárez's death in 1872. In 1876, Porfirio Díaz (1830–1915) leads a military takeover of Mexico City and assumes the presidency (1876–80; 1884–1911). To the detriment of indigenous Mexicans, he promotes railroad construction, increased trade, and modernization by concessions to foreign investors. Reaction against this Porfiriato, as his rule is called, precipitates the Revolution of 1910.

While under Spanish rule, Central America is a colonial backwater and lags economically and culturally behind other centers. It is spared the bloody wars that characterize the independence movements of Mexico and Spanish South America. In 1823, the United Provinces of Central America is formed, consisting of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica (Panama is part of Colombia until 1903, Belize a colony of British Honduras until 1973). Destructive civil wars and political unrest ensue, so that by 1841 the five countries split apart. Instead of realizing the dream of a united and prosperous independent isthmian nation, Central America remains a feuding cluster of city-states calling themselves "republics." Despite the failure of a union, their individual flags—all bearing a white stripe between two blue stripes (land between the two oceans)—symbolize shared histories and future hopes. Plans to construct an inter-oceanic canal through Central America spells continual international interference in the affairs of the region, particularly from Britain and the U.S. These plans culminate in the Panama Canal in 1914.

    • 1803 Following his travels through South America, German explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) arrives in Mexico, where he spends a year researching in libraries never before open to non-Spaniards. His subsequent publications awaken world interest in these countries.

    • 1810 Father Miguel Hidalgo (1753–1811) initiates the Mexican independence movement. A parish priest in the town of Dolores, he leads Indians to revolt with his famous cry known as the Grito de Dolores: "Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe and death to the Spaniards!"

    • 1821 After eleven years of war, Mexico achieves independence from Spain.

    • 1823 Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica are included with independent Mexico, but almost immediately separate themselves into the United Provinces of Central America (1823–38).

    • 1829 Democracy is established in Mexico with the election of the first president, Guadalupe Victoria (1786–1843). Slavery is abolished.

    • 1833 The first modern factory is built in Latin America: a powered cotton mill near Puebla, Mexico.

    • 1839 British draftsman Frederick Catherwood (1799–1854) and American writer John Lloyd Stephens (1805–1852) travel to Yucatan and Central America and publish the illustrated Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (1841); a second trip together in 1841 results in Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (1843). Their work greatly stimulates interest in Maya ruins.

    • 1844 The regime of dictator José Rafael Carrera (1814–1865) begins in Guatemala and lasts over twenty years. All the Central American states are dominated by conservative caudillos (military strongmen) during mid-century, but only Carrera's is of such durability.

    • 1846 Spanish artist Pelegrín Clavé (1810–1880) arrives in Mexico City to reorganize the Academia de San Carlos (founded 1781); he and Italian Eugenio Landesio (1809–1879), teacher of José María Velasco (1840–1912), exert strong influence.

    • 1846–48 The U.S. invades Mexico and captures Mexico City; as stipulated in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico cedes present-day California and the Southwest to the U.S. (lands south of the Rio Grande) for $15 million.

    • 1847 The outbreak of the Caste War, in which Mayan peasants confront local authorities in Yucatan, inspires others to mount the most successful rural rebellion in nineteenth-century Mexico.

    • 1848 Costa Rica abolishes its army. This measure ensures that, unlike its neighboring Central American republics, Costa Rica will develop a peaceful state free of wars.

    • 1855 The dictatorship of Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794?–1876) in Mexico is terminated by a liberal revolution.

    • 1856 U.S. soldier of fortune William Walker (1824–1860) becomes dictator of Nicaragua; although he is driven out the next year, this act leaves a legacy of distrust between the two countries.

    • 1858 Civil War breaks out in Mexico between the liberals and conservatives; Benito Juárez (1806–1872) is elected president, the first Indian leader of a Spanish-American country.

    • 1861 French troops sent by Napoleon III to Mexico are defeated the next year by the Mexican army at Puebla, a victory celebrated as Cinco de Mayo (May 5); the French subsequently regain the upper hand.

    • 1862–63 The publication in Paris of Désiré Charnay's (1828–1915) photographic album Cités et ruines américaines, based on his expedition in 1857, expands awareness of Central American ruins; he visits again in 1864 and 1880.

    • 1864 The French invade Mexico and install the puppet Maximilian I as emperor; he is executed in 1867, an event immortalized in several canvases by the French painter Édouard Manet (1832–1883).

    • 1870s Bananas are introduced as a cash crop to Costa Rica, and soon the "miracle fruit" expands across Central America, consolidated by the Boston-based United Fruit Company in 1899. The crop becomes so critical economically that the Central American countries are dubbed "The Banana Republics."

    • 1876 British archaeologist Alfred Percival Maudslay (1850–1931) arrives in Yucatan.

    • 1877 Porfirio Díaz (1830–1915) assumes the presidency; his dictatorship, which ends with the Revolution of 1910, is marked by increased foreign investment, technological development, and expansion of the railroad.

    • 1887 Mexico City erects a monumental statue of Cuauhtemoc, the Aztec leader during the Spanish conquest in 1521; this represents a revival of the history of indigenous peoples.

    • 1888 Mexican illustrator José Guadalupe Posada (1852–1913) opens his first print shop in Mexico City to illustrate and publish newspapers and broadsheets.

    • 1898 The U.S. declares war on Spain and in victory gains dominion over Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Philippines, and Guam.