This essay examines the 1893 competition held by Madrid's San Fernando Academy for the best representation of ‘Spanish Culture symbolized by the grouping of the great men’ throughout the ages. Few late nineteenth-century academies attempted such a grandiose definition of culture by depicting all great native historical personalities from all major disciplines in a single canvas. More importantly, academicians repeatedly accused contestants of portraying foreign influences in their entries, of corrupting the truly Spanish, even while they, contrarily, pointed to non-Iberian sources of Spanish culture. Ancient and Renaissance Italy were but two mythologized sites of origins for academicians who debated cultural genealogies and definitions of ‘Hispanidad’. The contest coincided with the fourth centenary of 1492, and the winning panels were intended for Madrid's National Library; hence, the Academy debates are inseparable from the discourses of Spain's imperialist ambitions, or that of rising regional militancy. Yet, there was something more immediate at stake for academicians: the Academy's demise as economic centre of the arts and site of cultural authority. The debates disclose the controversial roles envisioned for this beleaguered institution at the turn of the century. The debates, therefore, like the competition panels themselves, were allegories of contemporary cultural politics.