Early Entirely Engraved Book on the Patron Saint of Mexico
425. MONTES DE OCA, José María (engraver). [Engraved title] Vida de San Felipe | de Jesús pro | tomartir de Japón | y patrón de su patria | México. | Se gravó el año de 1801 | Montes de Oca la inventó i grabó en Méxco. Calle del. Bautisterio | de S Catalina Mr no. 3. Mexico: Montes de Oca, 1801. 29 copper-engraved plates in dark sepia ink (including illustrated title), all with images and text relating to San Felipe de Jesús. 23 x 16.5 cm, later nineteenth-century full sheep, title stamped in blind on spine. Sheep slightly rubbed, with edge wear and some small areas of flaying. Engravings very fine on untrimmed sheets. The third plate has four small wormholes, one of which is in the plate area but not affecting image; the eighth plate has an ink smudge at top barely touching image. Overall a very fine copy.
Short-title list of engravings (in the order in which they are bound, which is not the order of the narrative; measurements are plate mark to plate mark):
Vida de San Felipe de Jesús protomartir de Japón…Montes de Oca…. (allegorical title page). 17.8 x 12.8 cm.
Cortan los berdugos…. (the Saint has his left ear cut off). Unsigned. 16.9 x 12.5 cm.
Prodigios que presedieron…. (three miracles occurring in Japan: comet, cross in a tree, blood pouring from a statue). Unsigned. 16.9 x 12.7 cm.
Untitled views showing more miracles that happened upon the Saint’s crucifixion, with text commencing below: 4. Tienbla la tiera…. Unsigned. 18.5 x 13 cm.
Publica Dios la gloria del Bo. Felipe…. (miracles that happened upon the Saint’s crucifixion and four priests on crosses). Unsigned. 18.6 x 13.6 cm.
Estudia de Biendo. Felipe de Jesús la gramática…. (the Saint at school). Unsigned. 17.8 x 13.2 cm.
Es vencido de la tentación…. (the Saint being tempted by the Devil). Unsigned. 18.3 x 13.3 cm.
Toma el Bienaventurado Felipe de Jesús…. (the Saint taking the habit). Unsigned. 18 x 12.3 cm.
Pide posada en el camino, el Biendo. Felipe de Jesús…. (the Saint seized in Japan). Signed lower left below image: Montes de Oca. 18.3 x 13.2 cm.
Consumado el sacrificio del martirio…. (the apotheosis of the Saint). Signed lower left below image: Montes de Oca inventó i grabó en Méx. 16.8 x 11.8 cm.
Se abraza, el Biendo. Felipe de Jesús…. (the Saint embracing the cross). Unsigned. 18.4 x 13.2 cm.
Da la Bula de la beatificación de Felipe…. (Pope Urban VIII presenting the bull beatifying the Saint). Unsigned. 16 x 12.6 cm.
Profesa el Buenaventurado Felipe de Jesús…. (the Saint taking orders). Unsigned. 15.8 x 12.6 cm.
Segun las pruebas…. Signed at lower right below image: Montes de Oca sc. (birth of the Saint). 18.4 x 13.9 cm.
Profesa el Buenaventurado Felipe de Jesús…. (the Saint receiving inspiration). Signed at lower right below image: Montes de Oca fecit. 15.8 x 12.6 cm.
Hace, el Biendo. Felipe de Jesús…. (the Saint penitent). Signed lower left below image: J. Montes de Oca. 18 x 13 cm.
Profesa ya el Biendo. Felipe de Jesús…. (the Saint in a courtyard with fountain). Signed lower left below image: Montes de Oca fect. 16.6 x 12.6 cm.
Focando los umbrares de muerte la ylustre Antonia Martinez…. (death-bed scene of Antonia Martínez wherein she acknowledges that the Saint is her son). Unsigned. 16.6 x 12.3 cm.
Se embarca, el Bienaventurado Felipe de Jesús…. (the Saint on a ship during a tempest). Unsigned. 17.2 x 12.6 cm.
Inflamado el. Bienddo. Felipe de Jesús…. (the Saint ministering to the sick). Signed lower left below image: Montes de Oca, f. 17.9 x 13.1 cm.
Se entrega el Bienaventurado Felipe de Jesús…. (the Saint at devotions). Unsigned. 17.3 x 12.4 cm.
Se congetura por las pruevas…. (baptism of the Saint). Unsigned. 18.4 x 13.9 cm.
Despachan sus padres al Bienaventura do[n] Felipe de Jesús, al las Yslas Felipina…. (the Saint embarking for the Philippines). Unsigned. 17.7 x 13.1 cm.
Nombra la afortunada México…J.M. Montes (the Saint surmounting an eagle perched upon a cactus and venerated by a European and a Native American in Mexico). Signed lower left below image: J.M. Montes de Oca. 17 x 12.1 cm.
Muere el Biendo. Felipe de Jesús….(the Saint crucified and pierced by two spears). Signed lower left below image: Montes de Oca, fect. 17.2 x 12.3 cm.
Celebra Regozijada México…. (crowd scene in Mexico City square showing celebrations at the Saint’s beatification). Unsigned. 17 x 12.3 cm.
Aparece el Bienaventurado Felipe de Jesús…. (the Saint appears to his mother on her death bed). Unsigned. 16.9 x 12.9 cm.
Toma segunda vez el havito…. (the Saint taking the habit). Unsigned. 17.3 x 12 cm.
Los Padres F. Mateo de Mendoza….(removing the Saint from the cross with two ladders). Unsigned. 16.8 x 12.5 cm.
First edition of one of the earliest entirely engraved Mexican imprints. This is the original printing, rather than the restrike. Here the plates are printed on contemporary early nineteenth-century paper watermarked (crown, countermarked DVALL) and with chain lines 2.4 cm apart. Copies vary between 29 and 31 plates, although it would seem that any copy with fewer than 29 plates is defective. Copies with more than 29 plates seem to be those that have plates added from Breve Resumen (Medina, México 9461), a separate but related work published in 1802 with which the present work was sometimes bound, and which includes two Montes de Oca plates. The image showing the Saint being removed from the cross exists in two renditions, one of which has only one ladder. The version with two ladders may, in fact, be a plate by Agüera, which, as Romero de Terreros notes, is usually found inserted in this work. Clearly, the order of the plates is meant to be chronological, although plates sometimes seem to be out of order, as is the case here. In the correct order, the first fourteen plates depict his life until his landing in Japan, the next eight his experiences in Japan up to his execution, and the final six events after his death. The plates from which this book was printed are still known to exist; at some point in the twentieth century a restrike edition was made in Mexico. Oddly, almost all reported copies offered on the market are in modern bindings, suggesting that they may be restrikes. Even Dawson’s copy in 1948 was in modern boards.
Mathes, Illustration in Colonial Mexico, Woodcuts and Copper Engravings in New Spain 1539-1821, Register No. 1802:9461 (title page). Mayer, México ilustrado, pp. 138 & 139 (illustrated). Palau 363045. Romero de Terreros, Grabados y grabadores en la Nueva España, pp. 500-503 (engraved title only, p. 500). Sabin 76028 (calling for 30 plates). See also Carrillo y Gariel, Grabados de la colección de la Academia de San Carlos, p. 78. Not in Medina (México).
This delicately rendered suite of plates was created by José María Montes de Oca (active 1788-1820), among the most important Mexican artists, engravers, and book illustrators. Montes de Oca attended San Carlos Academy, where he received a scholarship in matrix engraving. In 1796, he launched his own studio and established an academy of painting. He also worked with master engraver Jerónimo Antonio Gil. Montes de Oca illustrated some works of Fernández de Lizardi and executed many handsome plans and views of Mexico City. Many critics consider the present work his finest and most ambitious. Mathes characterizes the engraver as “highly skilled and prolific.” He further remarks on the present volume, inter alia: “In 1801, [Montes de Oca engraved] a frontispiece allegorical to the martyrdom of Blessed Felipe de Jesús in Japan, a portrait of the martyr, and, in volume two, a frontis and twenty-nine fine plates of the life and martyrdom for Breve resumen de la vida y martyrio, Oficina Madrileña de la Calle de Santo Domingo y Esquina de Tacuba, 1802.” The work was reprinted in a facsimile edited by Manuel Quesada Brandi: San Felipe de Jesús 1574-1597 (Mexico City, 1962).
As Rubén Gallo remarks in his paper on “Orientalism in Mexican Art” (Conference in Wroclaw, Poland, June 1999), San Felipe’s death at the end of the sixteenth century marked the beginning of a period of orientalism, the product of a curious incident that culminated in the canonization of Mexico’s first martyr. In 1596, a galleon of New Spain was shipwrecked off the coast of Japan at a time when, to the misfortune of the twenty–six passengers aboard, anti-Christian hatred was rife in that country. No sooner did the travelers touch land than they were taken prisoner, mutilated, exposed to public torment, and eventually crucified. One of the victims was a Mexican friar who went down in history as Saint Philip of Jesus. This episode became a favorite subject of colonial paintings; innumerable canvases and prints were made over several centuries showing the young, defenseless friar attacked by the heartless Japanese. The murals in the Cuernavaca cathedral, executed towards the end of the seventeenth century, and the engravings of José María Montes de Oca in 1801 are among the most finished examples of the genre.
San Felipe de Jesús (1572-1597) was born in Mexico City and studied to become a priest but left the order to pursue commerce in the East Indies, where his parents sent him to avoid a life of dissolution. Events, however, caused him to reconsider his decision, and he was sent to Mexico City to resume his orders anew and be ordained as a priest. A storm forced the ship to Japan where, although well received at first, he and his fellow priests were eventually crucified at Nagasaki. All were canonized in 1862, a very unusual situation in San Felipe’s case, since he did not survive to enter the priesthood.
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Copyright Dorothy Sloan 2009