The Art of the Banknote
A story by Frank Stocker in Germany’s Die Welt.
They dance, with big hats on their heads and wearing colorful clothes. This is a scene from a 19th century living room, as painted by Pedro Figari, one of the great painters of Uruguay. He entitled the image “Baile Antiguo” (Old Dance), an image that today can be seen on Uruguay’s 200-peso bill. And the dance was already old when he painted it. For although Figari was born in 1861, it was only in his sixties that he began to devote himself entirely to painting.
Figari created his own style, which is somewhat reminiscent of naive painting. He loved to paint scenes representative of everyday life, oftentimes including dance scenes. People of the black minority in the country were often predominant as well. On the picture in the banknote, however, only white people can be seen, which is not unlike most other banknotes.
The images depict a variety of poets, musicians, scholars, and politicians. The 20-peso note, for example, features Juan Zorrilla de San Martín, a national poet. His most famous work is the poem “Tabaré” an epic of 4736 verses written in 1888.
The only woman featured on a national bill (the 1000 peso note) is Juana de Ibarbourou. She was one of the great poets of the country. At the same time, she was also one of the country’s first feminists, as well as a representative of the so-called Hispanidad (Hispanic Heritage). Additionally, she contributed to the creation of a separate “flag of Hispanic Heritage.”
Especially during the first half of the 20th century, this movement enjoyed great popularity in Spain and South America. It emphasized the close connection of the Spanish-speaking world. But it was also ideologically close to the Franco dictatorship in Spain.