First Published Eye-Witness Report on the Maya Ruins of Palenque

First Visual Documentation of Palenque

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506. RÍO, Antonio del. Description of the Ruins of an Ancient City, Discovered Near Palenque, in the Kingdom of Guatemala, in Spanish America: Translated from the Original Manuscript Report of Captain Don Antonio del Rio: Followed by Teatro Critico Americano; Or, a Critical Investigation and Research into the History of the Americans, by Doctor Paul Felix Cabrera, of the City of New Guatemala. London: Published by Henry Berthoud, No. 65, Regent’s Quadrant, Piccadilly; and Suttaby, Evance and Fox, Stationer’s Court [verso of half title and colophon: London: Printed by G. Schulze, 13, Poland Street], 1822. [i-vii] viii-xiii [1, blank], [1] 2-128 pp., 17 uncolored lithograph plates, 2 folded (Mayan deities and artifacts), by McQueen after original drawings by Ricardo Almendáriz, as redrawn by archaeologist-artist Jean Frédéric Maximilien Waldeck. 4to (27.5 x 21.5 cm), nineteenth-century three-quarter brown sheep over maroon, orange, and brown marbled boards, spine extra gilt with raised bands and gilt-lettered black morocco label (later endpapers). Binding expertly restored and repaired, scattered moderate to mild foxing to text and plates. Plates trimmed at lower margin, seven with loss or partial loss of lithographer McQueen’s imprint (not affecting images proper). Ink ownership inscription dated 1832 of E.W.A.(?) Drummond Hay, perhaps Edward William Auriol Drummond Hay (1785-1845), Consul General of Morocco. A few contemporary ink notes in French on endpaper (quoting Brasseur de Bourbourg), front pastedown with late nineteenth-century book label of Librerías de Mayo de C. Casavalle of Buenos Aires. Very rare.
     First edition of the first published, eye-witness account of Palenque and the first published visual documentation of the site, a cornerstone in Mesoamerican studies. Brinley Sale 5380. Brunet VI, col. 1633 (28678). Field Auction 1982. Glass, p. 686. Leclerc, Bibliotheca Americana (1878) 1114. Palau 268187. Sabin 71446. Saville, Palenque, pp. 125-6. Cf. Parsons, Columbus to Catherwood, figs. 39 and 43. “This modest volume introduced Waldeck, future artist-archaeologist, to the public; provided the earliest published firsthand description of Palenque for the scholarly world, and incidentally elevated del Río to the status of a recognized pioneer in Maya studies.... Del Río’s book was published ahead of its time. By 1822 the scholarly world was not prepared to make the most of the description and illustrations in the modest volume. Not until John Lloyd Stephens and other explorers in the 1840s emphasized the peculiarities of Maya ruins did del Río’s book begin to gain stature as a work of historical interest; those explorers discovered that it was the first published account of Palenque” (pp. 14-16, Robert L. Brunhouse, In Search of the Maya, Ballentine Books, 1976).

     Spanish artillery Captain Antonio del Río’s (ca. 1745-ca. 1789) discovery of tangible evidence of an amazingly rich Maya past and this printed report were the beginning of the study of this truly lost civilization. In May 1786 upon the order of the Spanish Crown, Governor and Brigadier General of the Royal Audencia of Guatemala, Don José Estachería sent Río to Chiapas to investigate rumors of an ancient city near Santo Domingo del Palenque and determine the origin of its inhabitants. Rio was preceded by other visitors to Palenque, the most recent being two brief forays by José Antonio Calderón, a local official, and Spanish architect Antonio Bernasconi, whose sparse observations prompted the order for the full-scale investigation by Río. The Spanish captain made up for his lack of antiquarian training with his zeal, hiring seventy-nine Maya locals to assault with crowbars and axes the abandoned, tree-engulfed, seventh-century city of Palenque. In his report Río describes and comments on the hieroglyphs he saw. “These would later constitute the very first mention of ancient Maya writing, and certainly that of Palenque, to reach print.... Río’s narrative also provides our earliest reasonably complete descriptions of some of Palenque’s buildings. His account of the Temple of the Inscriptions and the stucco piers is admirable for its time.... His ‘fieldwork’ appears to have been quite competent, perhaps even a little ahead of its time in terms of architectural description” (pp. 39-40, David Stuart & George Stuart, Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya, London: Thames & Hudson, 2008).

     With Captain Río was Guatemalan draftsman, Ricardo Almendáriz (fl. 1787; also known as Ignacio Armendáriz ), who made thirty drawings of architecture, stucco reliefs, and carved tablets from the palace of Palenque, the Temple of the Inscriptions, and the Cross Group. “Overwhelmed by the intricacies of the glyphic inscriptions on the Temple of the Cross panel and failing to comprehend their significance, Almendáriz condensed the dozens of glyphs on either side of the figures into two columns of eight, with enlarged characters designed to be representative of the group. Although Almendáriz’s illustrations were certainly the most detailed and faithful depictions of Palenque to date, his drawings betray a lack of understanding of the imagery and a tendency to follow familiar European visual tropes” (Dumbarton Oaks, Archaeological Illustration in the Americas, pp. 16-17). “[Almendáriz’s’] work was an astonishing achievement in both perseverance and extraordinarily fine draftsmanship. It is difficult to imagine the adverse conditions facing Armendáriz during those three weeks in the debilitating heat of a tropical spring, in the half-lit interiors where the largest sculptures were, and having to contemplate and draw on paper dampened with humidity and perspiration the stupefying details carved by an unknown people in an unknown time. For this, plus the extraordinarily high quality of his production, Armendáriz emerges as the true hero in the visual documentation of Palenque (pp. 40-41, Stuart & Stuart, Palenque).

     Río sent his manuscript report to Guatemalan Governor José Estachería, and it was preserved in Madrid. Almendáriz’s original drawings were recently found in a private European collection and published: Estampas de Palenque, Madrid: Testimonio, 1993. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the author’s manuscript and Waldeck’s drawings re-emerged in a still mysterious manner to be published in England in the present work. Publisher Henry Berthoud bought the manuscript from a mysterious Dr. McQuy (McQueen?) in Jamaica at the end of April 1822. Capitalizing on public interest in American indigenous cultures as well as in Romantic ruins, Berthoud published Rio’s work in hopes of a popular bestseller, which might otherwise have been lost.

     Count Jean Frédéric Maximilien Waldeck, another person involved in the early history of Palenque, copied Almendáriz’s drawings and executed the line lithographs for the present book. Waldeck’s name and/or initials appear on some of the lithographs. These simple drawings and exposure to the mysteries of Mesoamerica deeply inspired Waldeck to explore and publish his own two grand works on Mesoamerica and Palenque (see his two books herein).

     Included in this work is a treatise by Guatemalan doctor Pablo Felix Cabrera which includes his early history of the peoples of Mesoamerica. He suggested that the original inhabitants of Palenque had been Phoenicians who came to America by sea. He also mentions the tradition of an eclipse in 34 A.D. and speculates that the Mexican god Quetzalcoatl was St. Thomas preaching the gospel in ancient America. He argues that Votan was a celebrated chief, supposedly sent by God to divide the lands of the first inhabitants of the American continent who came from Chaldea shortly after the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel. It has been claimed that Cabrera’s thesis had a strong influence on Mormon founders Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery. Votan, surely a chief for all centuries, has been trotted out for other causes, such as the Zapatistas of the Mexican Revolution. In conclusion, as in some other early works on Mesoamerica, it is probably most useful to focus on the twenty-one pages of Río’s account and the plates illustrating Almendáriz’s on-site drawings of Palenque. Or, as one scholar stated: “No other Maya site could have been better calculated to provoke or fascinate those who stumbled upon it. It was here that the first generation of visitors began to ponder the mysteries of the Maya” (David Drew. The Lost Chronicles of the Maya Kings, Berkeley: University of California Press (1991, p. 97).


Auction 23 Abstracts

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