K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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About this painting

William H. Powell, Discovery of the Mississippi. Commissioned 1847; Purchased 1855. Capitol Rotunda, Washington, D.C.

Date created
This work is believed to be in the public domain. Users are advised to make their own copyright assessment and to understand their rights to fair use.
Original image housed by U.S. Capitol Complex

See this painting in context

  • Prehistory, contact, and the Lost Colony: First part of a North Carolina history text for secondary students, covering the land, American Indians before contact with Europeans, Spanish exploration, the Roanoke colony, and the Columbian Exchange. (Page 3.3)

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In the classroom

  • See our collection of articles on visual literacy for ideas on using photographs meaningfully in the classroom.
William H. Powell's 1847 painting, <cite>Discovery of the Mississippe</cite>, portraying Hernando de Soto on a white horse looking at the Mississippi.  Indians in the background watch de Soto, who is flanked by other Spanish explorers.

William H. Powell’s painting, Discovery of the Mississippi, depicts Hernando de Soto’s encounter with the Mississippi River in 1541. De Soto was the first European to view the river. In the painting, de Soto appears in armor on a white horse, approaching a vista of the large river. De Soto is flanked by armored men carrying spears and flags. A group of American Indians stand and kneel next to the path on which de Soto is riding. Two of the women appear to be frightened, and one of the men is holding a peace pipe. In the background, Indians in canoes are rowing in the water. In the foreground on the right, a group of European men are planting a crucifix in a freshly dug hole. In the foreground on the left, another group of Europeans are wheeling a cannon.

The painting was commissioned by the United States Congress to hang in the Rotunda in the U.S. Capitol building in 1847. Powell (1823-1879) was the last artist to be commissioned by the Congress for a painting in the Rotunda.