Diego Rivera

On this date in 1886, painter Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato, Mexico. Rivera attended art school at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City. He then traveled to Europe to study art, later incorporating what he learned about Renaissance frescoes (painting on wet plaster) in his murals. In 1921, he returned to Mexico and became a chronicler of the people via a series of murals. Rivera, along with fellow Mexican painters Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, led the peoples’ mural movement. Their murals were usually located in public places and reflected social, political and national themes.

His monumental stairway mural in Mexico’s National Palace, Mexico City, is unabashedly critical of religion, particularly the Catholic invaders of Mexico, shown as conquerors conducting autos-da-fé. The mural depicts the mythical and precolonial, pre-Christian history of Mexico and records the Spanish enslavement of native Indians. The final mural, which depicts various injustices toward the people, goes after a triumvirate of “Banker, Army, and Church.” A priest is shown cavorting with a woman en dishabille.

Rivera’s most famous mural is “Man, Controller of the Universe.” He painted it in 1934 as a recreation of his mural “Man at the Crossroads,” which was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller and then destroyed because Rivera refused to remove a portrait of Lenin from the mural. “Man, Controller of the Universe” represents the world in the 1930s and contains portraits of Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Rivera painted “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park” between 1947 and 1948. This mural originally included the image of the activist and atheist Ignacio Ramirez holding a sign inscribed “Dios no existe.” Because Rivera refused to remove the inscription, the hotel that held the mural refused to show it. Rivera eventually removed the inscription nine years later and reaffirmed his atheism.

Rivera married several times, most famously to painter Frida Kahlo, 20 years his junior. They were married from 1929-39 before briefly divorcing and remarrying in 1940. She died in 1954. (D. 1957)

Freedom From Religion Foundation