First Printed Notice & Illustrations of Xochicalco

By the Father of Natural Science in Mexico


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5. ALZATE Y RAMÍREZ, Joseph Antonio. Suplemento a la Gazeta de Literatura. Descripcion de las antiguedades de Xochicalco. Dedicada a los señores de la actual expedicion marítima al rededor del orbe. Escrita por don Joseph Antonio Alzate y Ramirez, Socio de la Real Academia de la Cienicas de Paris, de la Sociedad Bascongada, y del Real Jardin Botánico de Madrid. Mexico: Por don Felipe de Zúñiga y Ontiveros, 1791. [6], 1-24 pp., 5 folded copper-engraved plates (antiquities and archaeology at Xochicalco) by Francisco Agüera Bustamante. 8vo (19 x 14.5), disbound (removed from a legajo, with contemporary ink number at top right of first page). Second leaf loose, one plate slightly browned at edge, otherwise very fine, with plates in excellent, dark impressions.

            First edition of the first printed notice of the interesting ruins at Xochicalco. Mathes, Illustration in Colonial Mexico: Woodcuts and Copper Engravings in New Spain 1539-1821 8026 (calling for only 2 folded plates). Medina, Mexico 8026 (also calling for 2 folded plates). Palau 10139n. Sabin 989 (Gazeta). Handbook of Middle American Indians, Vol. 13, Part 2 (Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources), p. 90: “In January, 1788, [Alzate y Ramírez] began publication of his most important periodical, Gazeta de Literatura, which he continued to publish through October, 1795.... Through the pages of his own periodicals and of the Gazeta de México, Alzate carried on a public scientific conversation and controversy with other Mexican intellectuals of his day, generally enlightening, sometimes very cutting. He included valuable data on the condition of the Indians at his time as well as some information on Indian antiquities.”

            Written under the benign influence of Clavijero, Alzate states that he is in an argumentative mode:

La variedad con que hasta el día se ha hablado de los Indios Mexicanos; el excesivo desprecio con que algunos, aun de los nuestros, acostumbran mirarlos, y especialmente los negros y viles colores con que por lo regular nos los pintan los Autores Extrangeros, me movió, hace algunos años, á indagar su origen, sus usos y costumbres, y en una palabra, todo lo concerniente á sus Artes, Ciencias &c. con el fin de fixar los diversos juicios de los primeros, manifestar la injusticia de los segundos, y últimamente poner á vista de todo el Mundo la ignorancia y calumnia de los últimos.... ¡Dichoso yo si esta corta y desaliñada Memoria que publico, llega á disipar las falsas impresiones que han causado en los Literatos las siniestras noticias que acostumbran dar generalmente a los Extrangeros de los antiguos Indios Mexicanos en sus obras!

            Alzate then refutes in no uncertain terms that the earliest Mexican inhabitants were savage barbarians with no skills or intellect. This is an early, important defense of Mexican indigenous civilizations by a priest who embraced the very religion that had done so much to denigrate and destroy native Mexican civilizations. As noted by the Dictionary of Scientific Biography: “He struggled to contradict European opinions regarding the inferiority of American scientific knowledge.... Many Mexican intellectuals consider Alzate to be the father of modern natural science in Mexico.”

            The name Xochicalco, a pre-Columbian archaeological site in western Morelos southwest of Cuernavaca, translates from Nahuatl: “In the place of the House of Flowers.” The site was first occupied by 200 B.C. and developed into an urban trading center by Mayan traders from Campeche in the Epiclassic period (700-900 A.D.). Xochicalco is thought to represent change and fragmentation throughout Mesoamerica after the downfall of Teotihuacan, with elements of what David Drew describes as “a new kind of pan-Mesoamerican culture,” in which architecture and iconography show affinities with Teotihuacan and the Maya (David Drew, The Lost Chronicles of the Maya Kings, University of California Press, 1999. pp. 375-376). It has been speculated that Xochicalco had a community of artists from various regions in Mesoamerica. Xochicalco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is especially noted for its astronomical observatory in a cave and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. For more on the site consult: Beatriz de la Fuente, et al, La Acrópolis de Xochicalco (Cuernavaca: Instituto de Cultura de Morelos, 1995).

            A controversial figure, Alzate y Ramírez (1737-1799), Mexican priest, scientist, historian, cartographer, and journalist, was one of the most zealous students of liberal sciences in New Spain in the eighteenth century. More than thirty treatises on various subjects are due to his pen on subjects as diverse as astronomy, physics, meteorology, antiquities, and metallurgy (Catholic Encyclopedia). For other works by this author see [MEXICAN PERIODICALS]. ALZATE... and LORENZANA [Y BUITRÓN] herein.

            For more on engraver see Francisco Agüera Bustamante, item [BOLAÑOS] herein.


Sold. Hammer: $600.00; Price Realized: $735.00.


Auction 23 Abstracts

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