Art of Costa Rica 5 Colones Banknote, Year 1990 – Face and Back
“Alegoria”, or “The Allegory of Coffee and Banana” is the name of the beautiful mural painted by Italian Artist Aleardo Villa in 1897. It decorates the ceiling of the National Theater in San Juan and has been cataloged as one of the ten most beautiful ceiling murals in the world. It was commissioned to illustrate the vitality and progress of the nation.
The lamppost planted in the sandy beach may seem out of place, but it is an allegorical painting after all. But there was good reason to include it in the mural.
San Juan, the capital city of Costa Rica, was one of the first three cities in the world to have electricity, after London and New York!
One can imagine their civic pride! Look closely and you can see people looking at it in admiration.
The produce of Costa Rica is marshalled for export to the ports of the world.
In the background are the masts of sailing ships of the old world are mixed with the funnels, or stacks, of the steamships of the new world.
The sacks are loaded with coffee beans, each proudly marked “Café de C. Rica”.
Women are harvesting coffee accompanied by girls and boys and men.
Notice the animals in the background whose strength assisted the arduous daily work.
Coffee was introduced to Costa Rica in the 1700s. By the time of our mural’s painting, coffee had become a major industry for Costa Rica, providing funding for young academics in Europe, the first railroad to the Atlantic ocean, and for the national Theater.
Costa Rica was the first nation of Central America to plant and export bananas. Millions of bananas were exported by Costa Rica by the turn of the century, 1900.
The man in our mural is happily displaying a luscious bunch of bananas, but, unfortunately, he is holding them up side down! We might forgive our muralist, a brilliant artist living in Italy, and who, as far as we know, never actually visited Costa Rica.
The artist’s interpretation might be seen by some, now a hundred years later, as a something of a prophetic allegory in itself. The prosperity supported by the cultivation of bananas in the late 19th century would lead to what some have called the banana wars a few decades later which turned the region upside down for a time.