Frederic Church journeyed to South America in 1853 and 1857, following in the footsteps of Alexander von Humboldt, the leading naturalist of the generation before Charles Darwin. The resulting paintings, including Chimborazo and The Heart of the Andes (now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), embody Humboldt's theory of the interdependence of natural systems. Church takes the viewer on a virtual trip from the torrid, tropical Ecuadorian rainforest to the temperate grasslands in the center, to the frigid, ice-clad peak of Mount Chimborazo, which hovers over the scene. In Humboldt's science, these three ecosystems depended on one another.
Church painted plants in the foreground with such detail that botanists today can identify many specific species. Although committed to scientific accuracy, Church presents a composite view of the area around Mount Chimborazo based on extensive field studies. Rather than simply transcribe nature, Church wished to convey the whole experience of Ecuador to the viewer.