The Festival of San Agustín de las Cuevas
Viewed through Egerton’s English Lens

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129. EGERTON, D[aniel] T[homas]. [Title at lower right] Sn. Augustin [sic] de las Cuevas. [lower left] D.T. Egerton 1839. [London, 1840]. Hand-colored lithograph with gum arabic highlights, mounted on original stiff board with ruled border (as issued). Signed, dated, and titled in stone. Image: 42 x 60.4 cm; image and original backing board: 53.5 x 71.2 cm. Scattered light foxing (mostly confined to mount), two very minor losses at very edges of upper right margin, one short closed tear at lower right. Image very fine and fresh, with the original gum arabic highlights in place (regrettably, when plates from this rare series with gesso are restored, the highlights frequently disappear).

     First printing of one of the twelve prints from the first edition of one of the more beautiful and rare series of prints relating to Mexico (Views in Mexico, London, 1840). Egerton’s views are considered to be among the finest examples of hand-colored topographical lithographs ever produced.Abbey, Travel in Aquatint and Lithography 1770-1860 670. Palau 787583. Sabin 22044 (from Rich, who dated the album 1841). Tooley 205: “This work has greatly increased in value in the last few years and has become rare” [The last complete set of the portfolio at auction was in 1991; we sold a complete copy of the portfolio in 1990 @$50,000]. For more information on Egerton, see preceding and following entries herein.

     Egerton presents an expansive landscape showing the region around San Agustín de las Cuevas, with the city and its architecture in the distance against the backdrop of mountains, bright sky, and blue river. The middle ground and foreground are populated with hundreds of inhabitants attending the annual festival, some of whom are visiting a religious shrine while holding a flag and umbrellas. The foreground affords a closer look at the inhabitants in their native costumes engaged in dancing and making music. Brantz Mayer in his book Mexico, Aztec, Spanish and Republican.... (Hartford, 1853, Vol. II, p. 237) describes the festival as follows:

San Augustin [sic] de las Cuevas, four leagues south of the capital, situated upon the first slopes of the mountains, and filled with charming dwellings, to which the Mexicans occasionally retire during the warm season. It is in this town that the festival of St. Augustine is held in May, and during its three days of celebration, Tlalpam is a scene of gaiety rarely equalled elsewhere on this continent. Rich and poor pour out from the capital to partake of the unrestrained amusements of the season, and thousands of dollars are lost at the gambling table on in the cock-pit, without which no Mexican festival is considered complete. The Mexican ladies appear at the balls which are given every night, or during the afternoon, on the green at the Calvario, and vie with each other in the splendor and variety of their dresses.

     The five-day religious and mystical festival in Tlalpan (now one of the sixteen boroughs of Mexico City) was most noted for its gambling, cock-fights, and uninhibited celebration from early morning mass to orgies extending late into the night. Saint Augustine is the area’s patron saint. Though associated with early missionaries in Mexico and thanksgiving for a successful fruit harvest, it has been suggested that the revelry was yet another Spanish transmogrification of an ancient Native American ritual toned down somewhat to Catholic standards. Egerton successfully captures the breathtaking landscape and the animation of the extended festivities. Nineteenth-century travellers to Mexico, particularly the British, were scandalized by the festival.


Auction 23 Abstracts

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