Entirely Engraved Book on the Patron Saint of Mexico

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140. [FELIPE DE JESÚS, SAINT]. MONTES DE OCA, José María (engraver). [Engraved title] Vida de San Felipe | de Jesus pro | tomartir de Japon | y patron de su patria | Mexico. | Se gravo el año de 1801 | Montes de Oca la invento i grabo en Mexco. 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. 8vo (23.5 x 16.5 cm), modern tan and brown marbled boards and modern endsheets. Bookplates on paste down: Otto Orren Fisher and Ex-Libris José Ramón de Velasco, Mexico. Engravings very fine. Some plates have bleed-through to the verso. One plate has a very small wormhole in blank margin. Edges untrimmed.

Short-Title List of Engravings

Note: Measurements are plate mark to plate mark.

[1] Vida de San Felipe de Jesus protomartir de Japon.... (allegorical title page). 17.8 x 12.8 cm.

[2] Segun las pruebas.... Signed at lower right below image: Montes de Oca sc. (birth of the Saint). 18.4 x 13.9 cm.

[3] Se congetura por las pruevas.... (baptism of the Saint). Unsigned. 18.4 x 13.9 cm.

[4] Estudia de Biendo. Felipe de Jesus la gramatica.... (the Saint at school). Unsigned. 17.8 x 13.2 cm.

[5] Toma el Bienaventurado Felipe de Jesus.... (the Saint taking the habit). Unsigned. 18 x 12.3 cm.

[6] Inflamado el. Bienddo. Felipe de Jesus.... (the Saint ministering to the sick). Signed lower left below image: Montes de Oca, f. 17.9 x 13.1 cm.

[7] Es vencido de la tentacion.... (the Saint being tempted by the Devil). Unsigned. 18.3 x 13.3 cm.

[8] Despachan sus padres al Bienaventura do[n] Felipe de Jesus, al las Yslas Felipina.... (the Saint embarking for the Philippines). Unsigned. 17.7 x 13.1 cm.

[9] Toma segunda vez el havito.... (the Saint taking the habit). Unsigned. 17.3 x 12 cm.

[10] Profesa el Buenaventurado Felipe de Jesus.... (the Saint taking orders). Unsigned.15.8 x 12.6 cm.

[11] Profesa el Buenaventurado Felipe de Jesus.... (the Saint receiving inspiration). Signed at lower right below image: Montes de Oca fecit. 15.8 x 12.6 cm.

[12] Hace, el Biendo. Felipe de Jesus.... (the Saint penitent).Signed lower left below image: J. Montes de Oca. 18 x 13 cm.

[13] Se entrega el Bienaventurado Felipe de Jesus.... (the Saint at devotions).Unsigned.17.3 x 12.4 cm.

[14] Profesa ya el Biendo. Felipe de Jesus.... (the Saint in a courtyard with fountain).Signed lower left below image: Montes de Oca fect. 16.6 x 12.6 cm.

[15] Se embarca, el Bienaventurado Felipe de Jesus.... (the Saint on a ship during a tempest).Unsigned.17.2 x 12.6 cm.

[16] Pide posada en el camino, el Biendo. Felipe de Jesus.... (the Saint seized in Japan).Signed lower left below image: Montes de Oca. 18.3 x 13.2 cm.

[17] 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.

[18] Cortan los berdugos.... (the Saint's left ear is cut off).Unsigned.16.9 x 12.5 cm.

[19] Se abraza, el Biendo. Felipe de Jesus.... (the Saint embracing the cross).Unsigned.18.4 x 13.2 cm.

[20] Muere el Biendo. Felipe de Jesus.... (the Saint crucified and pierced by two spears).Signed lower left below image: Montes de Oca, fect. 17.2 x 12.3 cm.

[21] 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.

[22] Consumado el sacrificio del martirio.... (the apotheosis of the Saint).Signed lower left below image: Montes de Oca invento i grabo en Mex. 16.8 x 11.8 cm.

[23] Untitledviews showing more miracles that happened upon the Saint’s crucifixion, with text commencing below: 4. Tienbla la tiera.... Unsigned.18.5 x 13 cm.

[24] Los Padres F. Mateo de Mendoza.... (removing the Saint from the cross with two ladders). Unsigned.16.8 x 12.5 cm.

[25] Da la Bula de la beatificación de Felipe.... (Pope Urban VIII presenting the bull beatifying the Saint). Unsigned.16 x 12.6 cm.

[26] Nombra la afortunada Mexico...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.

[27] Celebra Regozijada Mexico.... (crowd scene in Mexico City square showing celebrations at the Saint’s beatification). Unsigned.17 x 12.3 cm.

[28] 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.

[29] Aparece el Bienaventurado Felipe de Jesus.... (the Saint appears to his mother on her death bed). Unsigned.16.9 x 12.9 cm.

     First edition of one of the earliest entirely engraved Mexican imprints. This is the original printing, rather than the restrike. The plates from which this book was printed are still known to exist. The paper here is countermarked CASA | DVALL, and watermarked with a crown; the chain lines are 2.3 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, as in the present copy. Clearly, the order of the plates is meant to be chronological (as here), although plates in some copies are bound out of 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.

     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. 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 imprisoned, 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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