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Liberation of the Peon

José Diego María Rivera, Mexican, 1886 - 1957

Diego Rivera’s Liberation of the Peon makes visible the cruel and exploitative Mexican peonage system, which kept agricultural workers in servitude to the owners of large properties, or haciendas, until they could pay off a debt by work. The laborers (peons) were routinely subject to brutal punishment. In this fresco painting, a hacienda worker has been tied to a post, whipped, and left for dead by his overseers. Four revolutionary soldiers have come to his rescue. In the distance, a hacienda building burns.

Rivera based this painting on a fresco he had created in 1923 in Mexico City as part of a series narrating the history of the Mexican people and their struggles during the 1910–20 Mexican Revolution. The composition is a secular adaptation of a famous fresco, The Lamentation of Christ, painted by the Italian artist Giotto in about 1435 at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.


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