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Essay on Art History: Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park by Diego Rivera – Free Essay Example

Title of Work: Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park

  • Artist: Diego Rivera
  • Medium: fresco mural
  • Date Created/Art Period/Art Movement: Surrealism, 1946-1947
  • Where Created/Culture: Mexico City, Mexico
  • Funky (Form, Focus of work, Use of Elements and Principles, Artist’s specific style used):

This work ‘Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central Park’ ( known in Spanish as Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central ) is a fresco mural made by Diego Rivera from 1946 to 1947

This extensive fresco is fifty feet (15.6 m x 4.7 m or 51 ft x 15 ft)

Takes viewers on a walk through the Alameda Park

The Alameda Park was Mexico City’s first city park, and was built on the grounds of an ancient Aztec marketplace.

This mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park features a crowd of hundreds of persons and characters from about 400 years of the history of Mexico

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The mural features bright, vivid, festive colors, numerous colorful balloons, and impeccably dressed visitors and diverse vendors

Even amidst all this celebration and joy, the mural highlights a darker side of Mexican history, including the subjugation of the indigenous people, violent skirmishes, and the lasting impact of enforced European culture and standards

Mural shows a lack of interest in rigidity and realism, rather the soft haze of blue, green, yellow, and red colors created a landscape that was beyond reality, and existed within the constraints of the human mind

The flora in the mural takes on curvilinear lines and appears to sway and bend in movement

The background of the scene incorporates some buildings and sculpture that reflect the influence of Europe on Mexico

Although the scene seems packed in, there is a clear distinction amongst the different historical periods in Mexico

The mural incorporates engaging elements of fantasy that activate the unconscious forced deep within humans

The mural merges outer and inner reality, past and contemporary, into a single position; seemingly unrelated fragments combine into a vivid dream world

Scene does not appear strictly formal in style and characters vary in their actions

Many persons are shown in profile, others in three-quarter view, some with their backs to viewers and others are in full frontal view

Emphasizes the setting as not realistic, rather it is dreamlike

Mexican iconography including the Mexican flag, banners for Independence, and a slightly off center blimp balloon that has the letters ‘RM’ which likely stand for Repùblica Mexicana, or the Mexican Republic.

Caravaggio (Content, Subject, Iconography, Symbols):

In chronological order starting from left to right, viewers see numerous prominent figures from Mexican history

Diego Rivera portraits himself as a young boy around age ten in the center of the mural, and beside him La Calavera Catrina leads him

La Catrina is a skeleton figure meant to parody vanity and obsessions with attaining European standards and wealth

On the right of La Catrina is a well dressed gentleman, Posada, who dons a black suit, cane and derby hat, and gallantly offers her his arm to hold

Rivera respected Posada immensely, and often claimed him as one of his artistic luminaries and teachers

Posada’s narrative style was an influential model for Diego Rivera’s mural paintings

Other notable figures in the scene include Frida Kahlo (Rivera’s young third wife), Franciso Madero (a Mexican revolutionary who advocated for democracy), Benito Juarez (a Mexican politician who served as the 26th president, and fought against foreign occupation under the emperor Maximilian), Maximilian I of Mexico (the only monarch of the Second Mexican Empire who was offered rule by Napoleon III; was strongly against ‘liberal’ president Benito Juarez who encouraged democracy), Porfirio Diaz (a Mexican general who served 7 terms as president under the Porfiriato dictatorship), La Malinche (a Nahua woman who played a key role in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, acting as an interpreter, advisor, and intermediary for the Spanish; dubbed a traitor), and Hernán Cortés (a Spanish conquistador).

This large mural represents three principal eras of Mexican history:

The Conquest of Mexico by the Spanish imperial forces

The Porfiriato Dictatorship – which was the period of Porfirio Díaz’s presidency of Mexico, and an era of dictatorial rule. Under his presidency there was a combination of consensus and repression during which the country underwent extensive modernization but political liberties were limited and the free press was muzzled.

The Revolution of 1910 – which was the Mexican Revolution, by which dictatorship was ended in Mexico and a constitutional republic was established

The central focus of this mural is to display varying eras of Mexico, from the complacency and values shortly before the Mexican Revolution in 1821 to the tyrannical rule, and finally revolution

This focus on Mexico’s history allowed Rivera to incorporate numerous figures and separate scenery

In this mural, elegantly dressed upper-class figures leisurely walk under the figure of Porfirio Diaz, a long ruling dictator.

To the right an indigenous family is being forced back by police batons and flames and violence surround them.

In the far left of the mural, victims of the Spanish Inquisition can be seen dressed in the penitential sambenito robes and a coroza hat, which is in a conical shape

These people are depicted at an ‘auto-da-fe’ or ‘act of faith’, where they must pay penance through death by fire

La Calavera Catrina holds arms with Jose Guadalupe Posada, the Mexican graphic artist who first conceived her in his drawings

“Catrina” was a nickname during the early 1900s for an upper class woman who dressed elegantly in European clothing; she was a symbol of the urban bourgeoisie in the early 20th century

La Catrina wears a Feathered Serpent boa around her shoulders, which recalls the prominent Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl.

She is an allusion to the Aztec ‘Earth Mother’ Coatlicue, who is often represented with a skull, and is the mother of Quetzalcoatl. Her belt buckle is the Aztec sign Ollin which symbolizes perpetual motion

She holds hands with a young Diego Rivera, pictured here as a young boy

Frida Kahlo, Rivera’s wife, stands behind the child version of her husband in traditional Mexican dress with her right hand protectively on his shoulder and her left holding the yin and yang symbol.

In Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang refers to opposite yet interdependent forces, for example night and day. For humanity, this concept applies to the most fundamental duality – the two sexes, female (yin) and male (yang).

The symbol of Yin and Yang serves as a metaphor for Frida and Diego’s complicated and tumultuous marriage.

In the mural, La Malinche and Posada stare directly into each other’s eyes

Flees (Function, Purpose, Artist’s Intent):

This fresco mural was created with the intention of reflecting on extremely important events in Mexican history, including Spanish Conquest, periods of tyrannical rule, and finally independence.

Although it is titled as a ‘dream’ and the bright, festive colors, balloons seem to convey this message, the mural definitely has a darker side – one that cannot be concealed with all the celebration

In a time when history was often only told from the viewpoint of the victor or beneficiary, Diego Rivera wished to show a complete story of Mexican history, including the stories of the indigenous and the persecuted masses.

In this grand narrative, Rivera reminds onlookers that all strata of Mexican society played a role in the struggles and glory of four centuries.

The usage of fresco murals was famous in Mexican history and was originally used for propaganda under the post-revolution government. Artists such as Diego Rivera began to use it for their own purposes, and took a great deal in acknowledging the ‘nightmares’ under the political idealism that existed in early 20th century Mexico.

To (Context, Traditions, Culture, Social, Religious rituals that influenced the work):

This mural is the principal work of the Museo Mural Diego Rivera.

Created adjacent to the Alameda in the historic center of Mexico City.

Diego Rivera was an avid proponent of a social and political role for art in the lives of common people.

He wrote passionately about the ‘proper goals’ for an artist, and he himself abided by them.

Rivera’s views stood in contrast to the growing interest in abstraction of art by many early 20th century artists.

The Mexican Revolution was a major armed struggle that lasted roughly from 1910 to 1920.

This revolution transformed Mexican culture and government forever.

There were local and regional aspects of the revolution, but it was a revolution that had most impacts on the national level.

Its outbreak in 1910 resulted from the failure of the 31-year-long regime of Porfirio Diaz to find a managed solution to presidential succession. Porfirio quickly became a dictator, rigging election results and over-serving terms.

As a result there was a political crisis among societal elites, and there was a chance of agrarian insurrection.

Armed conflict broke out across the nation, and Diaz was forced into exile.

Quick Summary of Mexican Revolution

The origins of the conflict were broadly based in opposition to the Díaz regime, with the 1910 election becoming the catalyst for the outbreak of political rebellion.

The revolution was begun by elements of the Mexican elite reacting in a hostile manner to Díaz, led by Madero, Pascual Orozco, and Pancho Villa.

The revolt eventually expanded to the middle class, the peasantry in some regions, and organized labor.

In October 1911, Madero was overwhelmingly elected in a free and fair election and took office in November, thus ending the long period of tyrannical rule in Mexico.

Picasso’s (Context, Patron of work, Artist):

Artist Page

Since he was a young boy, around the age of ten (the age he was depicted in his mural), Diego studied art at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City, like many contemporary artists of his time.

When he was old enough, Rivera continued his studies abroad in Europe, in countries such as France, Italy and Spain.

From his experiences abroad, Rivera enthusiastically embraced new art styles such as Cubism and Post-Impressionism, using simple forms and large patches of vivid colors.

After Rivera left France, he continued his studies in art in Italy where he was able to observe and study Renaissance frescoes.

When he returned to Mexico, Diego became involved with the government sponsored Mexican mural program planned by Jose Vasconcelos, the Minister of Education at that time.

In the fall of 1922, Diego participated in the founding of the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors, and later that year he joined the Mexican Communist Party.

Subsequently, his murals were painted in fresco only, and dealt with Mexican society and reflected on the Mexican Revolution.

Diego Rivera developed somewhat of his own native style which was based on large, simplified figures and bold colors

His murals and developing art style also showed Aztec influence, and made usage of Aztec symbolism

In his later years he lived in the US and Mexico, and died on November 24, 1957.

Condo (Context = Historical Background, Political, Intellectual, Economic):

Historical Context + Visual Evidence

This mural was originally created at the request of the architect Carlos Obregon Santacilla for the Versailles Restaurant of the Hotel Del Prado

After the 1985 Mexico City earthquake the hotel was condemned for demolition, and the mural was consequently restored and moved to its own museum

In stepping back, and reading the mural as if it were a narrative, onlookers notice that a chronology emerges.

The left side of the composition highlights European conquest and colonization of Mexico

In the center, the fight for independence and the Mexican revolution dominate this space

The right side of the mural contains modern achievements

The central area also depicts what bourgeois life was like in the late 19th to early 20th century.

The ladies and gentlemen in this area wear their best clothes, and appear to engage in delightful conversation

They are under the watchful eye of the dictator Porfirio Diaz in his plumed military garb

There is an evident inequality between bourgeois life and the lives of the masses, which helps viewers to understand why average Mexicans wanted to overthrow their dictator, and why they wanted reform and revolution

There are dreams and nightmares within each historical part of the mural

To the left of the balloons the terrors of European conquest and subsequent religious intolerance by the Spanish

On the right of this mural, battles of the revolution are depicted, and workers raising flags for “land and liberty”

The Spanish Inquisition was a judicial institution ostensibly established to combat heresy in Spain.

In practice, the Spanish Inquisition served to consolidate power in the monarchy of the newly unified Spanish kingdom, but it achieved that end through infamously brutal methods.

Colonies of Spain, and other nations that were impacted by this resented the European country’s extreme violence and often revolted.

Thus, historically this was a turbulent time for Mexico, a young nation now faced with the repercussions of European foreign rule, dictatorship and the human desire for revolution and by extension democracy.

To (Theme of work)

Revolutionary piece


Historical narrative


Connect (2 – 3 other works in 250 by theme or style or intent, influences from other artists)

The Valley of Mexico from the Hillside of Santa Isabel

Both artworks feature Mexican history, including contemporary and past historical events, including the indigenous people – the Aztecs

Both pieces stir up sentiments of patriotism that supported a newly independent nation

The Two Fridas

Both works are created with symbolism which intends to make some critique about society, whether past or present.

Many (Art Movement Characteristics/Style as a whole)


In 1924, the First Surrealist Manifesto appeared in France, and many artists joined that new movement.

Surrealism incorporated many of the Dadaists’ improvisational techniques, as well as abstractism.

The Surrealists believed those methods important for engaging the elements of fantasy and activating the unconscious forces deep within every human being.

Inspired in part by the ideas of Freud and Jung, the Surrealists sought to explore the inner world of the psyche, the realm of fantasy and the unconscious, and had a special interest in the nature of dreams.

Some of the leading Surrealist thinkers included Andre Breton, Frida Kahlo, and Salvador Dali.

Andre Breton summed up this art movement saying, “Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of association heretofore neglected, in the omnipotence of dreams, in the undirected play of thought. . . . I believe in the future resolution of the states of dream and reality, in appearance so contradictory, in a sort of absolute reality, or surreality.”

Thus, the Surrealists’ dominant motivation was to bring the aspects of outer and inner “reality” together into a single position, in much the same way life’s seemingly unrelated fragments combine in the vivid world of dreams.

Surrealism developed along two lines.

In Naturalistic Surrealism, artists present recognizable scenes that seem to have metamor- phosed into a dream or nightmare image.

In Biomorphic Surrealism, artists produce largely abstract compositions, although the imagery sometimes suggests organisms or natural forms.

Cameras (Changes from the past or traditions)

Surrealism lacked interest in being constrained by rigidity whether by geometric and rectilinear lines, or by the natural, real world.

Surrealism was a time in art where the imagination, the intricacies of the human mind, particularly dreams, was highly prized.

Surrealism was influenced by some Dadaist ideals and abstractism elements

Unconscious creativity; believed that insanity was breaking the chains of logic

This idea was represented in their art by creating imagery that would be realistically impossible

Juxtaposed unlikely forms onto unimaginable landscapes

Specific Vocabulary/Diagrams to help


Surrealism: a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature which sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.

Mural: a painting or other work of art executed directly on a wall.

Auto-da-fe: the burning of a heretic by the Spanish Inquisition

Fresco: a painting done rapidly in watercolor on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling, so that the colors penetrate the plaster and become fixed as it dries.

Aztec: refers to several Nahuatl-speaking peoples of central Mexico in the postclassic period of Mesoamerican chronology, especially the Mexica, the ethnic group that had a leading role in establishing the hegemonic empire based at Tenochtitlan.

Yin and Yang: a complex relational concept in Chinese culture that has developed over thousands of years. Briefly put, the meaning of yin and yang is that the universe is governed by a cosmic duality, sets of two opposing and complementing principles or cosmic energies that can be observed in nature.


  1. Bank, Citi Private. “Diego Rivera’s Dream of a Sunday Afternoon, a Surrealist Tableau of Mexican History.”, Sotheby’s, 30 May 2019,
  2. “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park – Diego Rivera – Google Arts & Culture.” Google, Google,
  3. “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park.” Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park by Deigo Rivera,
  4. Rivera, Diego. “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park, 1948 – Diego Rivera.”, 1 Jan. 1970,
  5. “Rivera, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park (Article).” Khan Academy, Khan Academy,

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