Cotopaxi, the quintessential nineteenth-century vision of nature’s sublime and terrifying power, was painted on commission for the well-known book collector and philanthropist James Lenox when Church was at the height of his fame. The painting made a tremendous impact on the American art public, who perceived it as a geological parable of the Civil War then in progress. The viewer’s attention is focused on two principal motifs—the burning disc of the rising sun in its contest with the smoldering volcano. The colors radiate with fiery intensity against a low, pearlescent skyline. In this cosmic drama of light dispelling darkness, Church mirrors the contemporary tragedy of the Civil War and offers hope for its resolution through the cross formed by the sun’s reflection on the lake. No other representation so summarized American ideals at this critical point in the nation’s history.