AUCTION 23

 

México y sus alrededores

“the most important work illustrating Mexico City in the nineteenth century” (Mathes)

     Lithographs were produced in Mexico as early as 1826 and by the mid-nineteenth century books depicting Mexico in that medium had been produced as well. However, with the appearance of México y sus alrededores in 1855, Joseph Antoine Decaen set a new standard for the Mexican publishing world. With plates drawn chiefly by the talented artist Casimiro Castro, this work eclipsed previous Mexican illustrated books in both content and technique. The carefully chosen subjects, the many unusual perspectives, and the highly sophisticated lithograph techniques combined to create an album both unique and in demand.

     As a consequence to this demand, the album was issued in myriad editions, although the total number of these editions remains a mystery. Later editions were continuously expanded with new, revised, and/or redrawn plates, all as interesting and engaging as the twenty-nine that appeared in the original edition. The later editions also relied more heavily on color, with almost all the plates being fully colored as opposed to just three colored plates in the first edition.

     The plates were buttressed by text written by some of Mexico’s finest writers, including Marco Arróniz, L. Auda, José María Roa Barcena, Juan Campillo, José Tomás de Cuéllar, Hilarión Frías y Soto, José María González, Francisco González Bocanegra, Manuel Orozco y Berra, Luis Gonzaga Ortiz, Manuel Payno y Flores, Anselmo de la Portilla, José Fernando Ramírez, Luis de la Rosa, Vicente Segura Argüellas, Niceto de Zamacois, and Francisco Zarco. The initial explanatory text explaining the importance and uniqueness of the views was augmented as subsequent versions of the album were published with more plates. The greatest expansion of text occurs in Castro 5 (this reference is internal and refers to the fifth listing of México y sus alrededores in this catalogue); the articles are dated and the text is presented in French and Spanish in parallel columns, instead of in Spanish only. Most articles simply carry over from previous versions and are dated 1856. New and revised articles are dated 1864. A few of the old articles are replaced. The book can be found without text, and there is no evidence of the text ever having been bound with the plates. Only in the earliest issue of the album in this catalogue are the plates interleaved in the text at their appropriate place. In all the later issues herein the plates are bound together after the text (if present) and their order varies from the order of the text.

     The volume was likely always available both with and without the text, with whatever plates the purchaser chose, and with whatever amount of coloring was desired, subject to availability at the time. The book stayed in print through the French occupation, and some plates were modified and reissued as political circumstances required. Rarely are two copies totally identical. The preferences of binders and owners also contributed to variances.

     The most elusive images relate to the French occupation of Mexico. Because the French occupation lasted only a few years, some prints that depict those events had a short shelf life. Castro 4 contains one view by Jean Adolphe Beaucé, a French artist who followed the French army into North Africa, the Middle East, and Mexico. The plate, titled Gendarmerie Mexicaine, Escortant des Prisonniers, departs from the style of Castro through its use of color, light, and mood. The other rare plate from Castro 4 is View of Puebla. Taken from the hill of St. John. 1863, depicting the beginning of the Siege of Puebla with a view from General Forey’s command post at San Juan Hill.

     Each “edition” of the album may vary. Copies are reported with eighteen (as noted by Sabin) to fifty-two plates; some later examples contain one or two maps of Mexico. Issued by subscription in parts beginning in 1855, the work was noted in the December 1855 issue of El Siglo Diez y Nueve as in its sixth installment, and that it would contain twenty-four views. El Siglo Diez y Nueveo advised in January 1856 that the second series was complete, followed by a July 1862 announcement that forty views were available at $22. Finally, in October 1863, El Siglo Diez y Nueve announced that the work with 42 views, a plan, and text could be purchased for $22 (without text, $18, with 29 views, $10). See Roberto L. Mayer, “Nacimiento y Desarrollo de Álbum México y sus Alrededores,” p. 157 in Casimiro Castro y su taller (Mexico: Banamex, 1996). The book was reprinted on demand as the public dictated. All versions of the album are interesting and remarkable, especially when comparing the plates first-hand. In the course of publication of the prints, the firm changed ownership from “Decaen,” to “Decaen y Debray,” to “Debray” The name of the lithography firm and their addresses on the plates to some extent can be used to determine the approximate date of the publication of an individual print, but there is no hard and fast rule. During the transition of the middle years, the lithograph attributions can vary within an album, no doubt in part to the firm using whatever plates were still available. To add to the perplexity of dating, the publisher’s original cover is often dated. In the copies in this catalogue, the cover dates range from 1862 to 1874, and imprint dates range from 1855-1856 to 1869. Our two 1869 imprints have cover dates of 1870 and 1874. In conclusion, the varying dates, even within a single copy of the album, are testimony to the evolving nature of the work.

     The superbly executed plates are valuable expressions of art and history, vividly documenting the rich fabric of Mexican life at mid-nineteenth century. The contents of the book remain true to its title for the most part. Although there is some expansion beyond Mexico City itself, the majority of the plates depict scenes in the city or of its inhabitants. As such, the book is notable on several levels.

     First, the album is an important architectural book, recording many buildings and façades, often in multiple plates with shifting perspectives over the years. Regrettably some structures delineated no longer exist.

     Second, the book contains an important contribution to Mexican material culture. The costume depictions, for example, document an era long passed, and were considered so important that three of those plates were the only ones colored in the first edition. The costume plates are still used by scholars as accurate depictions of dress in Mexico at that time, including depictions of artifacts such as saddles and equestrian equipage.

     Third, the book records perspectives never before seen because the artist either adopted high locations that gave a bird’s-eye view or took images while riding in a balloon, the latter a first for Mexico. It is true that many views of Mexico City had already appeared from the overlooking heights, but no image of the Alameda from a balloon had ever appeared before this publication. The Veracruz view is a stunning example of the use of this altered perspective. The view Las Cadenas en una Noche de Luna was drawn from a high perspective and lithographed in an unusual way to reflect the fact that the scene takes place at night.

     Fourth, the documentation of how people lived in and interacted with their surroundings is substantial. The plates are pretty pictures, but they are much more. The elaborate costume plates show groups of real people from every class, participating in a wide variety of social activities—all suffused with vibrant life and myriad accurate details—aristocratic theatre patrons, finely attired churchgoers, common soldiers, elaborately equipped caballeros, colorful denizens of the bustling market place, etc. A later version of the dramatic Las Cadenas en una Noche de Luna, placid as it, has a hint of violence showing three policemen arresting a troublemaker. Two views of Iturbide’s palace offer strikingly different perspectives. In the earlier version, the structure is rendered as a straight architectural drawing. In a later, completely redrawn version, however, the perspective drastically shifts so that the building is de-emphasized and the busy street scene occurring in the foreground is paramount, thereby placing the building in a context missing entirely from the first version. Also important is the Cathedral of Mexico, which shows the central plaza with a magnificent coach and retinue. The later version of this plate replaces the coach with French troops during the French Intervention of Mexico, yet another subtle reminder of the turmoil in the country at that time. Finally, on a grimmer note, the dynamic plate showing a stagecoach robbery reminds one that not all was peace and light in Mexico. These are all different evidences of how the populace existed within and reacted to the country’s various contexts.

     Finally, the various editions afford an opportunity to study in depth the evolution of lithography in Mexico, particularly the use of color, which evolves from toned grounds to duo-toned images to increasing use of full color. Some of the later prints are chromolithographs with color and painterly qualities, rather than reliance on line to capture reality. See Casimiro Castro y su taller (pp. 143-146). Chromolithographic methods required that the lithographer have a highly evolved sense of color and skill in keeping the print in exact registration. One of the albums offered here includes some plates with minute pinholes at the far upper right corner, documenting the technique used to hold the paper in place to achieve proper color registration (see Castro 5).

     Despite its importance, the origin of México y sus alrededores is shrouded in mystery. Nobody knows why Decaen originally decided to produce the album, especially since it would have been a very expensive proposition, even given the relatively low cost of lithographs as opposed to copper plates. Whatever Decaen’s motivation, the publication history speaks for itself and bespeaks a book that was quite popular and probably profitable. The dual-language editions in Spanish and French and plate titles in English, Spanish, and French also strongly imply that Decaen may have marketed the book overseas since there would not have been high demand for foreign language books in Mexico itself. But, again, the target audience remains something of an enigma, especially since the marketing of the book is largely unknown. If Decaen was also selling separate prints, the book could easily have appealed to everyone from the highest orders of society to the lowest with little money. Probably anybody with a coffee table would have been ashamed not to have this book on it and perhaps many people with walls also had individual prints displayed.

     Artist Casimiro Castro (1826-1889) probably trained with Pedro Gualdi (see herein), who himself produced important lithographs of Mexican scenes, and stage designer Eduardo Rivière, for whose 1851 novel Antonio y Anita Castro he produced the lithographs. Castro hit his stride with this publication, later followed by the equally spectacular Album del ferrocarril mexicano (1877; see CASTRO herein), which reveals his additional talents as a landscape artist. He also produced a large body of commercial lithographs, such as posters, city views, and building façade designs. His original drawings and watercolors survive in some quantity.

     Lithographer-printer-publisher Decaen (fl. 1838-1869), a French émigré, is listed variously under the names Joseph Antoine Decaen, José Antonio Decaen, and Jean Decaen. Dr. W. Michael Mathes suggests that Decaen and other young French lithographers who introduced lithography Mexico may have trained under Godefroy Englemann, the pioneer English lithographer who perfected various forms of color printing. Decaen went into partnership with artist Frederick Mialhe in early 1838 in a shop in Mexico with equipment imported from Paris. In 1862 Decaen formed a partnership with Victor Debray, who carried forward the business when Decaen retired in 1868. Debray is listed alternatively as Victor, Auguste, or Augustín Debray. The only hint we have of a possible date of death for Debray is a legal matter brought before the City of Mexico by his widow regarding the Coliseo property (see Actas de Cabildo del Ayuntamiento de la ciudad de Mexico 1899, pp. 216, 301, 630, 640).

     The best historical and bibliographical study on the album is Casimiro Castro y su taller (Mexico City: Banamex, 1996), written for the Castro exhibit at the Iturbide Palace in 1996. Other works to consult follow, with the proviso that much confusion exists in the literature and bibliography on the album. Likely there is no such thing as a “perfect” copy. For instance, Abbey’s comment in entry 672 (citing 1855-1857 edition, and giving a plate list) asks more than it tells: “A text also was issued. Thirty[?] of these plates were published in 1855-6 with thirty-two pages of text, and the remaining plates appeared in 1857. The book was further extended in 1864 when an edition was published containing the coloured folding plan of Mexico City (evidently added in 1858?), a map of Mexico, forty-seven coloured[?] plates, and descriptions in Spanish and French. The draughtsmanship and lithography is of a very high standard.” Chadenat 3594 (33 plates). Colas, Costume 547. Hiler, Bibliography of Costume, p. 143. Lipperheide 1624 & Md 17.

     Mathes, Mexico on Stone, frontispiece [ii] & p. 43 (illustrations), pp. 28-30: “One of the most significant lithographic productions in the history of art.... Also issued in fascicules, this is the most important work illustrating Mexico City in the nineteenth century”; p. 57 (listed in bibliography); p. 63 (Decaen).

     Miles & Reese, America Pictured to Life 18: “Within Mexico, a lively homegrown lithographic industry began in 1826, and found broad expression in primarily black and white images. This book, which went through a complicated evolution of editions from 1856 to 1869 (and beyond) that vary widely in content, is the single most important color plate book produced in Mexico in the age of lithography. It depicts scenes in and around the City of Mexico during an era of development, civil war, and foreign invasion; which party controlled the capitol influenced the addition and subtraction of some plates from successive editions.” Museo Nacional de Arte, Nación de imágenes: La Litografía mexicana del siglo XIX, pp. 42, 67, 84-85, 95, 188-199, 243, 342-343 (1855-1856 edition). Palau 167505 (1855-1856 edition). Sabin 48590 (1856 edition & calling for 18 plates). Toussaint, La Litografía en México, p. xviii. For more on the history and method of chromolithography, see Peter C. Marzio, Chromolithography: The Democratic Art (Boston: David Godine in association with the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, 1979).

     Some of the albums contain a map of Mexico City (Plano general de la ciudad de Mexico...), and sometimes there is also an excellent general map of the Mexican Republic (Carta general de la República Mexicana...). The earliest edition of the map of Mexico City in our offering of seven albums is dated 1858 (see Castro 2), and the earliest general map of Mexico is found in the 1864 edition (see Castro 5). The early maps are by Decaen, with the later maps attributed to Debray only. Like the prints, these maps grew with Mexico City and the country in general, with updates and revisions as the city and country changed over time. Debray continued to publish and update the marvelously detailed maps of Mexico City after publication of Mexico y sus alrededores terminated (see map section of this catalogue for later editions of Debray’s maps.) Debray also was associated with many great maps of Mexico by Antonio García Cubas, the father of scientific geography of Mexico. All editions of these maps are scarce in commerce and institutional holdings. Although the maps are mentioned early in Mexican scholarly articles by Orozco y Berra and García y Cubas, they are seldom documented in later cartobibliographical sources. Their accurate information probably caused them to be “used up.”

     The combination of sophisticated lithography, excellent and unusual image rendering, careful, realistic coloring, and the wide variety of subjects depicted make this Mexican book one that has never been superseded and that still retains its value as an important artifact of printing and social documentation.

~~~

     Following are a few examples of various incarnations of some of the images, which are fascinating to compare and contrast. Some of the lithographs were totally reworked; other plates remained essentially the same except for occasional changes in title, attribution, and coloring. Undoubtedly there are many differences yet to be discovered among Castro’s iconic lithographs of Mexico. Please note that any and all plate measurements in this catalogue are for the image size only and do not include any text or title outside the image.

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Roldan Street, and its Wharf. La Calle de Roldan, y su desembarcadero. La Rue de Roldan, et son débarcadère.

     This print shows how different the prints may look simply due to coloring. What is depicted is Roldan Street, which Jean Charlot vividly describes in “Diego Rivera at the Academy of San Carlos” (College Art Journal X:1, Fall 1950), p. 10: “Only two city blocks away from the Academy [of Fine Arts of San Carlos of New Spain] were still to be seen the last live vestiges of a time when Mexico-Tenochtitlan was the Venice of the Americas, its commerce gliding on the web of its waterways. In the vicinity of Roldan Street the scene had scarcely changed from the one that Cortez sighted on arrival, and not at all since 1855 when Castro lithographed his busy plate, ‘The Roldan Bridge,’ for the album that described Mexico City and its suburbs. On feast days, and especially on that of Santa Anita, the usual traffic loads of vegetables gave way to boatloads of flowers brought from the countryside on primitive canoes by Indian paddlers in white, and girls in native embroidered blouses and full skirts of hand-woven material. Less gracefully, the sewage flowed into the canal, and neighboring wine-shops catered to the noisy busy crowds gathered at the landings.”

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Castro 1


Castro 2


Castro 3

Castro 4

Castro 5

Castro 6

Castro 7

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Interior de la Catedral de México. En el dia 26 de Abril del año de 1855 en que se celebró en ella la Declaracion Dógmatica de la Inmaculada Concepcion de María Santisima.

     This view of the interior of the majestic Cathedral of Mexico is one of the images that apparently appeared in most all the albums. Commemorated is the April 26, 1855, celebration of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, defined as dogma by Pope Pius IX in December of the previous year. A large crowd with all the important people is shown. One interesting feature of the view is the presence of a rare, ephemeral type of Mexican art, hand-painted lienzos on linen, cotton, or silk panels used to illustrate Christian concepts. The transition from simply toned lithograph to fully colored is documented by the following three illustrations of the image. The image itself did not change, and the color adds depth and vibrancy.

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Castro 3

Castro 4

Castro 7

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The Chains by Moonlight. Las Cadenas en una Noche de Luna. Les Chaines un Soir de Clair de Lune.

     This dramatic and skillfully crafted lithograph of a moonlight scene—perhaps the most memorable one of the Castro albums—shows a large group of people milling, talking, eating, and playing before the monumental façade of the cathedral and tall trees. A lively, later version of this scene introduced several new elements. Among the several changes is the addition at lower right of the violent arrest by authorities of a man of the people to the anguish and helplessness of his wife. Other additions include the introduction of the trolley at front left, two street vendors at lower left tending a fire, etc. The unusual name of the plate relates to a fence made of chain, which formed the boundary of a promenade along the line of trees.

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Castro 1


Castro 2


Castro 3

Castro 5

Castro 6

Castro 7

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Emperor Iturbide’s House, Now general stages Hotel. Casa del Emperador Iturbide, Hoy hotel de las Diligencias Generales. Maison de l’Empereur Iturbide, Aujourd’hui hôtel des Diligences générales.

     “When Iturbide made his entry into Mexico, at the head of the Trigarante Army (of the Three Guarantees, viz.: Religion, Independence and Union), he took possession of this edifice, which had been built by some rich Spaniard. After then it became the property of several individuals, and was finally turned into an hotel, but was and is still known as ‘The Emperor’s House’” (p. 75, Ferguson’s Anecdotical Guide to Mexico, Philadelphia, 1875). Miguel de Berrio y Saldívar, whose fortune was based in mining and livestock, commissioned the construction of this Mexican Baroque building between 1779 and 1785, after the design for the royal palace of Palermo. He used his daughter’s dowry of approximately 100,000 pesos to build the house to prevent his son-in-law from squandering his daughter’s wealth. Iturbide used the palace during his short reign over the First Empire and, subsequently, the sumptuous structure housed the College of Mining and was then adapted to be a hotel (as shown in the plate). Today the restored palace houses the Fomento Cultural Banamex and is named Palacio de Cultura Banamex. The early version is in landscape view, and the later view is in portrait orientation, with a perspective view down the street and emphasis on the crowds of people in front of Iturbide’s house.

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Castro 2

Castro 3

Castro 7

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Cathedral of Mexico. Catedral de México. Cathédrale de Mexico.

     This handsome image is the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary of Mexico City, the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas. Between 1573 and 1813, the imposing structure was built atop the former Aztec sacred precinct, around the original church built following the Spanish conquest. There are two versions of this scene, which reflect changing political and social circumstances. In the first rendition, the prominent foreground feature is an official carriage with a large retinue at the right. In the later version, the carriage and retinue are replaced by groups of people, and a military troop of French soldiers (Zouaves) in their unusual red and blue uniforms with baggy trousers is in the left foreground, indicating French occupation.

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Castro 3

Castro 4

Castro 6

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The Fo [sic] Spouting Fountain. La Fuente del Salto del Agua. La Fontaine de la Cascade.

     During the administration of the Duke of Linares, an aqueduct four-feet high consisting of 907 arches was built to bring water into Mexico City, terminating in the depicted architectural gem, Fuente del Salto del Agua (the title in English was mangled). The water flowed from a bowl supported by three children. The other important public water source was the Tlaxpana fountain (also depicted by Castro in this series of albums). The water from these fountains was often distributed by water carriers, one of whom is depicted in the present image. “The exquisite Fuente del Salto del Agua (1779) located in downtown Mexico City, is a monument that exemplifies the late-eighteenth-century neóstilo. The large unadorned Solomonic columns that dominate the façade exist amidst a myriad of classic Grecian and Baroque decorative motifs. [Footnote 27: Angulo Iñiguez (1950) attributes this work to Guerrero y Torres. Tovar de Teresa (1988:93) attributes the design to Ignacio Castera]” (pp. 63-79 in Paula B. Kornegay, “The Altar Screens in Northern New Spain...”, Journal of the Southwest 38:1, Spring 1996). Fuente del Salto del Agua first appears as a pictorial half title in portrait orientation with focus on the fountain. The later version of the Fountain is presented in landscape view, and the dominant feature is the crowded street scene with the fountain at the center.

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Castro 1

Castro 2

Castro 5

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Public Square Guardiola... La Plazuela de Guardiola... La Petite Place de Guardiola....

     The original name of this view was Public Square of Guardiola, but the image was redrawn and changed to Morelos Square, formerly Guardiola Square, after Maximilian inaugurated a new statue of Morelos in the square on September 30, 1865. Also, the later version of the print adopts a different point of view with the new statue of Morelos at the center.

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Castro 1

Castro 2

Castro 3

Castro 7

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The Bucareli Promenade.Paseo de Bucareli. Promenade de Bucareli.

     In the first version the streets and square are filled with people who are crowding to enter the coliseum, but later the image was changed to remove the crowds of people and make room for a rail line and trolleys. Other changes were made, such as a train in the distance, a new road, different plantings, additional buildings, etc. One thing that does not change in any version of the view is the statue at dead-center. This is the celebrated 26-ton bronze equestrian statue of Carlos IV cast by Manuel Tolsá in 1802. Because of anti-Hispanic sentiment during Mexican Independence and due to the desire to replace the monument, the statue was covered in a blue tent. Some people wanted to melt down the statue to reuse the bronze for guns or coins. In 1852 the controversial “El Cabillito del Tolsa,” the second largest cast bronze statue in the world, was moved to the location shown in the Castro view and protected by an iron grill. Since 1979, the statue has resided at Plaza Manuel Tolsá, where an explanatory plaque clarifies that Mexico conserved the statue as a monument to art, and not as a sign of praise to a Spanish king.

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Castro 1


Castro 2


Castro 3

Castro 4

Castro 6

Castro 6 (detail)

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View of the Valley of Mexico, Taken from the heights of Chapultepec. El Valle de México. Tomado desde las alturas de Chapultepec. La Valleé de Mexico, Prise des hauteurs de Chapultepec.

     The later version of this view is completely redrawn from its first version, in which the foreground shows a parade ground with soldiers drilling and a row of buildings is on the left. The revised view is from a viewpoint atop a wall, closer to the tower so that the parade ground is now behind the artist, and one can see the sculpture garden. In the revised view the lakes of the Valley of Mexico are more easily seen. The striking difference is not so much in the details as the dramatic transition to a chromolithograph method which omits the majority of drawn black lines, using instead layers of colors to create the image.

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Castro 4

Castro 7

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Public Square of México. Plaza de Armas de México. Place d’Armes de México.

     In the Castro albums there are four different renderings of the Zócalo and three different titles. The earliest (Public Square of Mexico) shows a bare plaza and the parade ground created by Santa Anna in 1843 (this appears in Castro 1, Castro 2, Castro 3, and Castro 4). The view is oriented diagonally across the plaza, with the cathedral appearing on the far left side. The bare plaza is filled with troops on parade, and the rooftops are lined with spectators. In 1866, when construction began on the Paseo del Zócalo (public garden and promenade), Castro created a new view (Square of Arms of Mexico) looking south, directly across the plaza from the heights of the cathedral. The image shows a line of trees around the outer edge of the new promenade. Both the first and the second view appear in two of the albums herein (Castro 3 and Castro 4). When the public garden was completed, Castro re-drew both of these views to show the completed garden (these appear in Castro 5, Castro 6, and Castro 7). The first (Public Square of Mexico) retains the original perspective and title of the first version, with the garden now prominently in the center of the square. The second of Castro’s new views (Garden in the Public Square) is similar to Square of Arms of Mexico, but looks directly across the plaza from west to east, and the garden and promenade dominate the image. A small corner of the cathedral appears on the left.

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Castro 4

Castro 4

Castro 7

Castro 5


Next: Castro 1

Auction 23 Abstracts


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