A Pioneer of Women’s Education in New Spain

A Remarkable Lady of the Spanish Borderlands

Click thumbnails to open zoomable images.

20. [AZLOR Y ECHEVERZ, MARÍA IGNACIA DE]. Relacion historica de la fundacion de este convento de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, Compañia de María, llamada vulgarmente La Enseñanza, en esta ciudad de México, y compendio de la vida y virtudes de N.M.R.M. María Ignacia Azlor y Echeverz su fundadora y patrona. Dedicada á La Serenísima Reyna de los Ángeles María Santísima del Pilar. Á Expensas de su sobrino el Señor Don Pedro Ignacio de Escheverz Azlor Espinal y Valdivielso, Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo y Santa Olaya, Caballero del Órden de Santiago, y Alguacil Mayor del Real Consejo y Corte de Navarra. Mexico: Por Don Felipe de Zúñiga y Ontiveros, calle del Espíritu Santo, 1793. [10], i-ii, 1-165 [1, blank] [2, table of contents] pp., copper-engraved frontispiece plate: R. de la M. R.M. María Ignacia de Azlor, y Echeverz, Fundadora Patrona, y Prelada del Convento de la Sagrada Compañia de María Sma. de la Enseñanza de México. Rea. Sc. (portrait of Azlor with rosary, standing at her desk with pens, ink wells, sea, etc.; she rests one hand on a stack of books and in the other she displays the brief from Pope Benedict XVI founding her school; on wall behind her is an image of the convent’s patroness, Zaragoza’s Virgin of the Pilar; plate mark: 17.2 x 11.3 cm); 2 wood-engraved ornaments on p. 1 (headpiece and initial). 4to (20.4 x 15.8 cm), original full green and tan marbled Mexican tree sheep, spine extra gilt with gilt-lettered red morocco label, sprinkled edges, original marbled endpapers. Small snag on title (no loss), inner blank margin wormed (sometimes touching a letter or two), but overall very good, portrait very fine.

     First edition of one of the few biographies of a woman of the eighteenth-century Spanish Borderlands. Beristáin de Souza, Biblioteca Hispano Americana Setentrional (1883), Vol. IV, Section 1, no. 4. Bulletin of the New York Public Library (Vol. IX, 1905), “List of Books Relating to Woman,” pp. 535 & 581. Johnson, The Book in the Americas 60: “Women as well as men were called to settle the Spanish borderlands.” Medina, México 8255 (commenting that he knew of only one copy, his own). Palau 259736. Sabin 21777 & 69226.

     Sor Azlor y Echeverz (1715-1767) is credited with institutionalizing women’s education in New Spain with the foundation of the first convent school of the Order of Mary in 1754. She was the first to regularize women’s education in New Spain, which theretofore had been the responsibility of incidental teachers, such as nuns who would take a few girls into their charge. Azlor’s system accepted both boarding students and free public classes to girls of any degree, including Native Americans, for whom a special school was founded. Despites its success, by 1785 Azlor’s establishments had become increasingly conventional, although they survive to the present day. According to Asuncíon Lavrin in a review of Pilar Foz y Foz’s two-volume work, La Revolución Pedagógica en Nueva España, 1754-1820: Maria Ignacia de Azlor y Echeverz y los Colegios de la Ensenanza (Madrid: Instituto Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, 1981):

Colonial women’s lives are difficult to document fully, and the female offspring of titled families are no exception. Fortunately, in her public role as the founder of the convent and its abbess for many years, Sor María Ignacia left enough documentation to enable us to assess her personality and her work. She emerges as a rather determined, strong woman who pursued the foundation of “her” convent indefatigably, and later directed it with competence and foresight. Data on her life and activities, as well as on those of several of the leading abbesses, serve to illustrate the avenues of action open to colonial women, especially, nuns, as well as the limitations they faced.

     Azlor was the younger of the two daughters of one of the most prominent families in New Spain, that of the Marqués de Aguayo, governor of Coahuila y Tejas and first colonizer of Texas. Handbook of Texas Online: Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo: “The Aguayo expedition so solidified the Spanish claim to Texas that it was never again challenged by the French. When Aguayo entered Texas the province had only one presidio and two missions, one of which, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, had been established only a few months earlier under the patronage of the Marqués. When he left, Texas had four presidios and ten missions. Aguayo was also responsible for the beginnings of colonization in Texas.” After rejecting the marriage proposal of Conde de San Pedro de Alamo, María became a nun, using her considerable inheritance from the Mazapil mines to further the work of the Catholic Church in Mexico (see Wagner, Spanish Southwest 83).

     The attractive, well-executed copper-engraved plate is the work of José Simón de Larrea (or La Rea), a significant practitioner of the art of engraving in colonial Mexico. See: Mathes, Illustration in Colonial Mexico, Woodcuts and Copper Engravings in New Spain 1539-1821 (Register 1793:8255): “[Larrea’s] principal work included, in 1793, a portrait of Madre María Ignacia Azlor y Echeverz, founder of the convent of Nuestra Señora del Pilar.” Romero de Terreros, Grabados y grabadores in la Nueva España, pp. 493-496. The engraving is mentioned by Kelly Donahue-Wallace in “Picturing Prints in Early Modern New Spain” (The Americas, Vol. 64, No. 3, January 2008, pp. 325-349). Donahue comments extensively and interestingly on the engraved portrait in comparing male and female monasticism in New Spain, (“Saintly Beauty and the Printed Portrait” in Aurora: The Journal of the History of Art, January 1, 2007):

The 1792 biography of...Sor María Ignacia Azlor y Echeverz...explains that her painted portrait was easily executed but, like the others, was found wanting. The nuns of Azlor’s convent rejected the painting because “the painter did not capture her likeness....” Azlor’s printed biography did not employ the ugly or unsatisfactory painted portrait as the model for the engraved likeness and instead employed a different image. Azlor’s biographer apparently ordered engraver José Simón de la Rea to graft her likeness onto the figure and setting from the 1785 painted portrait of Sor María Ana Teresa Bonstet, La Enseñanza’s third prioress. Bonstet’s portrait, painted by Andrés López, located the nun in her office accompanied by the books and documents appropriate to her position as well as an engraving of the convent’s patroness, Zaragoza’s Virgin of the Pilar. This pastiche presumably sufficed to capture her entire likeness—or, better said, her virtue—as it was allowed to accompany her biography. In the same way, María Ynes’ beautiful image accompanied the printed text instead of a reproductive engraving of the aged and ugly painting.

The group of nuns who wrote this biography declare: “The pious reader will be astonished to see that a group of unlettered women have had the spirit to undertake a work above their sex.” See Dicc. Porrúa: María Ignacia Azlor y Echeverz.


Sold. Hammer: $1,100.00; Price Realized: $1,347.50.

Auction 23 Abstracts

Click thumbnails to open zoomable images.

DSRB Home | e-mail: