The Donation of Constantine

This ancient letter, which helped bolster the Catholic Church’s power for roughly 700 years, was probably the first forgery to significantly impact the course of history. Allegedly sent by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great to Pope Sylvester I in the fourth century A.D., the letter testifies to the emperor’s conversion to Christianity and grants vast authority to the pope and his successors. Among other privileges, the emperor gives the pope dominion over “Rome and the provinces, districts, and towns of Italy and all the Western regions.”

Constantine’s conversion is an historical fact, but the letter is a pure fabrication. While its origin is debated, the Donation was likely concocted between A.D. 750 and A.D. 850, perhaps by a church official. Various popes used it over the ensuing centuries to defend their political power, and the Donation was even celebrated in a painting in the Vatican. It was revealed as a fake in the fifteenth century. (Source: “Famous Fakes” on PBS’s Nova)

This thirteenth-century fresco in Santi Quattro Coronati, an ancient basilica in Rome, depicts something that never happened.


The Last Supper

In Marcos Zapata’s 1753 painting of the Last Supper in Cuzco, Peru, Christian symbolism is filtered through Andean cultural tradition. Zapata was a late member of the Cuzco School of Painting, a group comprised of few European immigrants and handfuls of mestizo and Indian artists. The painters in Cuzco learned mostly from prints of European paintings, and their style tends to blend local culture into the traditional painting of their conquistadors. Imagery was the most successful tool used by the Spaniards in their quest to Christianize the Andean population. By teaching locals to paint Christian subjects, they were able to infuse Christianity into Andean traditions. Zapata’s rendering of the Last Supper utilizes this cultural blending while staying true to the Christian symbolism within the subject. Instead of the traditional lamb, Zapata’s Last Supper features a platter of cuy, or guinea pig, an Andean delicacy stocked with protein as well as cultural significance. Cuy was traditionally a sacrificial animal at Inca agricultural festivals and in this way it offers poignant parallel to the lamb, as a traditional Christian sacrificial animal. (Source: PubMed)


The Past

Oil painting on linen 2006, by Anastasiya Markovich

“The past” has different meanings to different peoples. Just as there are different objective scales of physical time, there are different cultural scales of subjective time. (Source: “How the Meaning of Time Changes,” Psychology Today blog)