El Gallo Pitagórico - A milestone in the evolution of Mexican art & lithography

Satirical Lithographs with Shades of Hieronymous Bosch

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464. [MORALES, Juan Bautista]. El Gallo Pitagorico. [Mexico]: Imprenta litog. de Cumplido, 1845. [1] 2-280, [1, verso blank], [6, lithographer Cumplido ads with final verso blank] pp., 23 lithograph plates by Cumplido after art work by Iriarte, Blanco, and Heredia (including upper and lower wrappers, half-title, title, illustrated upper wrapper to Part 1, and portrait of author), numerous wood-engraved text illustrations, ornamental head- and tailpieces. 8vo (20.6 x 14 cm), contemporary three-quarter Mexican sheep over marbled boards, spine gilt-lettered, edges tinted yellow, contemporary bright yellow endpapers. Spine with a few small wormholes and chipped at lower extremity, covers moderately worn; interior very fine with only mild, scattered foxing to text and plates. Upper Part 1 wrapper with contemporary printed paper label affixed to lower blank margin, “Obsequio a los Sres suscritores del Memorial Historico.”

Wrappers & Plates

[1]  [Upper wrapper] El Gallo struts atop an architectural element as a man and woman flee below, trodding over a prostrate man. Printed on yellow paper.

[2]  [Illustrated title page] El Gallo Pitagorico. 1845 Imprenta litog. de Cumplido. Title within elaborate architectural border, atop which are the scales of Justice and El Gallo. Printed on toned ground.

[3]  [Part 1 upper wrapper] El Gallo sits on a scaffold while painting in the work’s name. Below him a band of caricature figures vigorously play their musical instruments.

[4]  [Portrait of author before p. 1] Juan Bauta Morales [facsimile signature in image] [below portrait] Blanco | Imprenta litog. de Cumplido.

[5]  [Plate opposite p. 16] Dentro de este gallo tienes el alma de Pitagoras. [below image at right] Imprenta lito. de Cumplido. Man greets El Gallo perched in a tree.

[6]  [Plate opposite p. 26] Militares. [below image at right] Imprenta lito. de Cumplido. Soldiers gamble and drink at a tienda.

[7]  [Plate opposite p. 33] Diputados. [above image at left] Pag. 33. [below image at right] Litog. de Cumplido. On the left side a fat delegate in top hat strolls while his colleagues in the background feast at the Templo de Placeres. On the right, an emaciated citizen follows his fellows into the Cuevo de la Miseria.

[8]  [Plate opposite p. 37] Un Juez y su Escribano. [signed in image lower left] Iriarte Lit. [below image at right] Litog. de Cumplido. At left a judge on a pedestal helps a fetching young woman, while at the right the other party to the suit bribes the notary.

[9]  [Plate opposite p. 42] Agiotista [signed in image lower left] Iriarte Lit. [below image at right] Imprenta litog. de Cumplido. A stock jobber explains to a beggarly empty-handed elderly woman what has happened to her money.

[10] [Plate opposite p. 46] Artesanos. La poca esperanza de medrar causa desaliento. [below image at right] Imprenta litog. de Cumplido. A poor worker nods off at his table while a cat wreaks havoc with his work.

[11] [Plate opposite p. 52] Periodistas. [below image at right] Imprenta litog. de Cumplido. Six well-dressed figures in a room, most of whom are nodding off or bored while another enthusiastically declaims from his text.

[12] [Plate opposite p. 82] Hipócritas. A rio revuelto, ganancia de bribones. [above image at right] Pag. 82. [below image at right] Litog. de Cumplido. Figures strut about, one holding a mask of insincerity.

[13] [Plate opposite p. 94] Ay! Ay! Que se resbala Tonchita! [above image at right] Pag. 74 [below image at right] Imprenta litog. de Cumplido. Several equestrian couples pitch and woo, as one man catches a woman sliding from her horse.

[14] [Plate opposite p. 105] Vieja remilgada. [above image at right] Pag. 103 [below image at right] Litog. de Cumplido. An older unattractive woman prepares to lasso her next male catch. Supplemented by a woodcut with a similar theme on p. 111, showing a despicable, triumphant woman fisher hauling in a helplessly hooked man.

[15] [Plate opposite p. 114] Tenemos que andar algunas leguas en pocos minutos. [signed in image lower left] Heredia [above image at right] Pag. 114 [below image at right] Litog. de Cumplido. A man is carried away by Mercury.

[16] [Plate opposite p. 123] Que Jupiter con sus rayos los arrojara de cabeza al lago de Texcoco. [above image at right] Pag. 123 [below image at right] Litog. de Cumplido. Armed man mounted on a Mexican eagle clutching the “Leyes Organicos” pursues a falling group composed primarily of horses with men’s heads.

[17] [Plate opposite p. 132] Si no andan en las campañas de Marte, sí marchan á paso redoblado á las de Venus. [above image at right] Pag. 132 [below image at right] Litog. de Cumplido. Two unattractive men try to attract two comely ladies.

[18] [Plate opposite p. 164] Mortus est qui non resollat. [below image at right] Imprenta lito. de Cumplido. Father Supino preaches to animals while El Gallo crows in a tree.

[19] [Plate opposite p. 180] Gran Orquesta. [below image at right] Imprenta lito. de Cumplido. Three demonic figures play instruments while petite fantastic creatures dance in the sky above. This figure reminds one of Bosch.

[20] [Plate opposite p. 184] Correos de Cabinete. [below image at right] Imprenta lito. de Cumplido. A herald with a long trumpet rides atop an enormous parrot; extravagant architecture in distance at left and right.

[21] [Plate opposite p. 186] Gran Orquesta. [below image at right] Imprenta lito. de Cumplido. Three fantastic figures play instruments atop prostate men while demons dance in the sky above. This is another figure that conjures the images of Bosch.

[22] [Plate opposite p. 265] Metamorfosis, El miedo convierte á dos gallos en ratones y á otro en pescado. [above image at right] Pag. 265. Three men with lanterns search for los gallos, who have changed themselves into fish and rats and sneer at their would-be captors.

[23] [Lower wrapper] Untitled illustration of two men observing a ferocious cock fight.

     First edition in book form (first appeared in El Siglo XIX, 1844-1845). Mathes, Mexico on Stone, pp. 23: “The great work of Cumplido in 1845 was El Gallo Pitagórico. Combining Cumplido’s typography, Juan Bautista Morales’ political satire, and the excellent lithographs of Herédia, Iriarte, and newcomer Plácido Blanco, this was the first major Mexican work illustrated with political caricatures. Such caricatures would later become the principal subject for lithographers”; 25 (illustrating a plate); 56 (title cited in bibliography); 63 (Cumplido); 64 (Iriarte, Rafael). Palau 180849. Sabin 50499. Toussaint, La litografía en México, p. xx & plates 25 & 26.

     Published on the cusp of Mexican history where the loss of Texas was fresh but not totally finalized and the devastating Mexican-American War loomed on the horizon, this work satirized and railed against the power elite of Mexico, who amassed wealth and influence to themselves but excluded practically the rest of the country from enjoying any of the fruits of industry and good government. Greedy figures such as stock jobbers and corrupt politicians abound in the pages and the illustrations, all pilloried in word and image. Morales and his artists clearly had a vision of Mexico far different from the one held by those in power. Their disgust has left literary and political history with one of the more powerful and acerbic Mexican publications of the nineteenth century, both well written and brilliantly illustrated by those who saw the skeletons beneath the all too ample flesh of the elite. A brief essay entitled “Anglo-Americanos” (pp. 20-22) is bitterly critical of the U.S. as being inhabited by people whose god is money and who make their living by smuggling contraband into Mexico. The essay also laments the condition of African-Americans and Germans in the U.S.

     The spectacular lithographs sometimes recall Hieronymous Bosch. The only one of them that is literal and restrained is Morales’ portrait. The others range from merely exaggerated to outright surrealistic. The artist’s eye for incriminating or telling detail is excellent. The stock jobber, for example, is dressed in a coat made up of stock quotes. The judge, clearly interested in his beautiful female client for more than mere legal reasons, has a picture on his wall of Justice being shot by Cupid’s arrow as his assistant takes a bribe. Finally, just as in their Bosch predecessors, the two views of the Gran Orquesta show grotesque figures dominating humans, one having turned his victim into a cello. To be sure nothing is lost, the text remarks that the cello strings are formed from the intestines and guts of a flatterer. Those two views are the ultimate expression of just how grotesquely the Mexican powerful are abusing the populace and the punishments they deserve for doing so.
     Morales (1788-1856), journalist, editor, jurist, magistrate, president of the Supreme Court, and governor of Guanajuato, was an enemy of Santa-Anna and his regime. A member himself of the power elite, he sponsored liberal viewpoints. Cumplido (1811-1877) was the most important Mexican printer and lithographer of his day, introducing many modern machines and techniques that he discovered in Europe. He was also known as a proponent of liberal causes, some of which landed him in prison, once, ironically, when he was director of prisons.


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