Trujillo del Perú (facsimile)
Spain was at the forefront of natural history expeditions in the eighteenth century, sending multiple expeditions to its colonies. In the late eighteenth century, Spain launched Royal Botanical Expeditions to Chile and Peru (1777–1788, led by Ruiz and Pavón), New Granada (1783–1816, led by José Celestino Mutis until his death in 1808), New Spain (1787–1803, led by Martín Sessé Lacasta), Asia and the Americas (1789–1794, led by Alejandro Malaspina), and the Philippines (1786–1797, led by Juan de Cuéllar). As Mutis (1732–1808) embarked on his journey to New Granada he promised his patrons alternatives to or new varieties of natural commodities on which European competitors held trade monopolies, such as cinnamon, tea, pepper, nutmeg, and cinchona.
Spanish botanical explorers were charged with surveying flora of Spanish territories, exploring their economic potential, and gathering specimens for Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden and the Royal Natural History Cabinet. Living plant specimens were difficult to maintain, often failing to survive the arduous journey through the territories or the voyage back to Spain, and so illustrations were valuable documents of the natural resources observed on such expeditions. Herbarium specimens were delicate, difficult to transport, and often did not resemble living specimens as accurately as detailed illustrations did. Although seeds and cuttings were vital to bring back to the mother country to establish any sort of commerce with the plant, for purely informational and classification purposes, drawings were often the most useful.
The volume pictured here was produced under the guidance of Baltazar Jaime Martínez Compañón (1737–1797), who served as bishop of Trujillo, Peru under King Charles III. His extraordinary project to document the resources and practices of the region was made possible by the thousands of paintings produced by local artists.
Bleichmar, Daniela. Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012.
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