Knowledge of the Past Is the Key to the Future: Some Afterthoughts on Discovery

Robert Colescott American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 915

As in the larger series which shares this work’s title, Colescott reinvented the compositions and subjects of European Old Master painting, presenting history as a jumble of vignettes that leap across time. Here, Christopher Columbus, a Catholic cardinal, the skeleton of the Viking-helmeted Leif Ericsson, and the signature ships of transatlantic exploration blend into fragmented scenes of colonialist violence. Colescott often looked to Western art history to examine the ways in which Black subjects are absented, demonized, or mythologized in its most celebrated works. Here the blending of past, present, and future implies that American racial traumas are indelibly linked to the country’s origins in colonial conquest and the myth of discovery.

Knowledge of the Past Is the Key to the Future: Some Afterthoughts on Discovery, Robert Colescott (American, Oakland, California 1925–2009 Tucson, Arizona), Acrylic on canvas

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.