Discussion: Zapata-Style Landscape

In 1907, Diego Rivera received a scholarship to survey Europe. There he was to continue his study of art, which he had begun as early as 1897 (Norwood, 2019). Rivera returned to Mexico in September 1910 to show what he had learned; the artist revealed his paintings at the National School of Fine Arts, and in 1911 he went again to Europe, Paris (Norwood, 2019). After some time, friends from Mexico visited him and told him about the political situation in the artist’s home country. In 1925, Diego Rivera painted his masterpiece in the cubic style Zapata-Style Landscape, whose original title was Guerrilla. The painting represents the apogee of the use of European avant-garde tendencies toward the Mexican theme. The artist depicted the atmosphere of the period of the Mexican Revolution and the struggle of the revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata to protect his peoples, lands, and way of life (Norwood, 2019). Then Rivera described his work as an accurate reflection of the Mexican mood.

Zapata-Style Landscape is made in a synthetic cubist style; a remarkable feature of the painting is that it includes objects related to the Mexican Revolution in the foreground. A rifle, a sombrero, a wooden ammo box, and a bandolier convey the central motif of the revolution in Mexico, while rich red stripes and a serape add richness and color to work. The Mexican picturesqueness of image is enhanced by stylized volcanoes in the background, reminiscent of the Valley of Mexico. As usual in the cubic style, the central image floats in space, and the main components come to the foreground, overlapping others or decreasing. Zapata-Style Landscape introduces still life elements into the landscape setting, mixing the two genres. The landscape shows snow-capped mountains and, most likely, volcanoes, characteristic of the Valley of Mexico and taken from Rivera’s memories of his homeland. The artist refers to the rich history of the depiction of the area; in this cubist painting, Rivera offers a new perspective on the Mexican landscape.

During the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), while he was in Paris, Rivera painted this picture of a long and bloody conflict. Although the name Zapata-Style Landscape did not appear in connection with the work until decades later, it gave the piece a revolutionary reading. The title refers to Emiliano Zapata (1879–1919), a celebrated leader of peasant guerrilla units and his followers (“Zapatista landscape,” 2017). Zapata often appeared in images with his sombrero and pistol, which are prominent in this painting. The artist’s work itself demonstrates its commitment to this movement.

The composition is dominated by a still life of various objects shown simultaneously from different points of view. White shapes around objects represent voids left after objects or viewpoints have been moved. In addition, it can play a role in the emptiness of those experiencing conflict. Areas of painted wood texture are a technique borrowed from painters and introduced into Cubist painting by Georges Braque (1882–1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) (“Zapatista landscape,” 2017). These details bring realism to the picture, while the artist mainly strives for abstract ways of depicting.

Diego Rivera’s work is increasingly focused on Mexico, its people, and revolution, with cubism as the founding form of his composition. Even though the artist was in Europe at the time of the start of action in his homeland, he accurately conveyed the atmosphere of Mexico and the events taking place in it. Rivera uses in his picture various symbols that refer us to the events of those years. Together with the background still life, these objects perfectly convey the national flavor.


Norwood, S. (2019). Diego Rivera: A man and his murals. Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. Web.

Zapatista landscape“. Lacma. (2017). Web.