The Apostle of the Indies & La Leyenda Negra

First Illustrated Edition, with Plates by De Bry

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69. CASAS, Bartolomé de las. Narratio Regionvm Indicarvm per Hispanos Qvosdam devastarum verissimi: priùs quidem per Episcopum Bartholemæum Casaum, natione Hispanum Hispanicè conscripta, & Anno 1551. Hispali, Hispanicè, Anno verò hoc 1598. Latinè excusa. Francofvrti: Sumptibus Theodori de Bry, & Ioannis Sauerii typis. Anno M.D. XCVIII. [Frankfurt: De Bry & Sauer, 1598]. [8], 1-141 [3, blank] pp. (including copper-engraved pictorial title page), a few woodcut initials and head pieces, 17 large text engravings plus one overlay (total 19 copper engravings) of gruesome Spanish atrocities, executed by Theodor De Bry (three after the artwork of Jodocus Winghe). The illustration at p. 59, which is repeated on p. 95, has been cancelled by the hinged overlay of another image (both are visible). Most of the engravings have a small number at lower left indicating where the plate should be placed in the book. 4to (20.5 x 16.5 cm), original full vellum over boards, title in sepia ink on spine. Binding soiled and slightly warped, front hinge cracked, front free flyleaf with a few short tears (no losses). Title page with small hole at lower center, slightly chipped at upper right, and trimmed at right margin (slight loss to border and image); illustration on p. 10 with small hole; light to moderate water staining to a few pages at front (pp. 47-51) and to pages 121 to end (mostly marginal). Overall a very good complete copy, with illustrations in strong impressions and the extra cancelled plate. Difficult to find in very fine condition and in original binding, no doubt due to the fact that the book was exceedingly popular and much read.

     First edition in Latin, first illustrated edition. A cornerstone work for any collection on the New World and Native American history. The first edition came out in Seville between 1552 and 1553 in a series of nine tracts (Brevíssima relación de la destrucyión de las indias, etc.). The present edition is a translation from the edition printed in Paris in 1579, with Brevíssima relación de la destrucyión de las indias (first tract), an abstract of the Entre los remedios (third tract), some extracts from Aqui se tiene una disputa o controversia (fifth tract), and an introduction quoting Lipsius on the Spanish atrocities. JCB I (1, to 1599), p. 360. Church 320. European Americana 1598/20. Medina, Hispano-Americana 383. Palau 46960. Sabin 11283: “This edition is much sought for, in consequence of the beauty of the first impressions of the plates.” Streeter Sale 30. Streit I:228. Winsor II, p. 342:

The engravings by De Bry are ghastly and revolting, and present all too faithfully the shocking enormities related in the text. It is a fearful parody of deception and truth which introduces a hooded friar as holding a crucifix before the eyes of one under torment by fire and mutilation. We can scarcely regret that the circumstances under which the indiscriminate slaughter was waged but rarely allowed of this desecration of a sacred symbol. The artist has overdrawn his subjects in delineating heaps of richly wrought and chased vessels as brought by the hounded victims to appease their tormentors.

As Cole in the Church catalogue remarks, however, about the plates, “They are of course imaginary, the artist never having been in America.” That minor fact hardly seemed to matter to contemporary readers.

     Casas, Bishop of Chiapas (1474?-1566) made the first appeal for humane treatment of the natives of the New World in his series of tracts printed 1552-1553, the first printed work advocating abolition of slavery in America. One of the most remarkable and significant works written about America, the author gives an account of mistreatment and extermination of Native Americans in regions conquered by the Spanish. Casas’ tracts resulted in the “Black Legend” of Spanish misrule in America and led to the New Laws of the Indies. This compilation in the lingua franca of the time cemented “La Leyenda Negra” in a way Casas’ original writings never could. The author’s family was among the earliest European settlers in America, and Casas, who became known as “The Protector of the Indians,” was the first Catholic priest ordained in America. He came to Cuba in 1502 and spent most of his time in the Caribbean and Mexico until his final return to Spain in 1547. In 1552 he launched a series of tracts which had been previously banned from publication.

     By the early 1580s the most lurid information about Spanish conduct in the Indies was circulating throughout Europe. “It needed only the horrific illustrations of De Bry’s new editions of Las Casas at the end of the century to stamp an indelible image of Spanish atrocities on the European consciousness. A weapon had been forged in those years of European crisis, which would render invaluable service to generations of enemies of Spain.... For the first time in European history, the colonial record of an imperial power was being systematically used against it by its enemies” (J.H. Elliott, The Old World and the New, Cambridge, 1970, pp. 95-96).

     Ironically, De Bry never visited America, yet the images he engraved for his book The Great Travels or The Discovery of America have for centuries have been a strong element of the collective memory of America. The illustrations in the present work induce a visual whiplash in simultaneously presenting the beauty of the human form and exacting perspective with scenes of grisly torture and man’s inhumanity to man. The book is an excellent example of the melding of word and image to advance a political end.

[Casas’ work] was especially popular in the Protestant north, eager to destroy both Roman Catholicism and the Spanish commercial monopoly of the Caribbean. The packaging of the book for circulation beyond Spain is reminiscent of the way in which the Communist bloc gleefully seized upon American racial turmoil—and riot photographs—of the 1960s as a sign of the utter corruption of the capitalist system, or of the way in which Fernando Botero has used the atrocities of Abu Ghraib for artistic sensationalizing. To advance his own similar agenda, Theodor De Bry added to the edition of 1598...a series of horrifying illustrations of Spanish torture, none of which were drawn from life. These should be viewed not only in the context of the current political situation, but also as representative of the religious sensibility or imagery of the time. Counter-Reformation taste delighted in engraved albums of the various means of crucifixion, and the still more diverse styles of martyrdom endured over the centuries by the saints. Las Casas’ occasionally exaggerated tales, aided by De Bry’s fanciful illustrations, are undoubtedly the chief source for the enduring image of the cruel conquistador—the “Leyenda Negra,” the Black Legend of Spain. (


Sold. Hammer: $7,500.00; Price Realized: $9,187.50.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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overlaid image, p. 95

cancelled image, p. 95

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