El Libro Rojo—The Book of Mexican Martyrs

Remarkable Oversize Lithographs

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508. RIVA PALACIO [Y GUERRERO], Vicente, Manuel Payno [y Flores], et al. [Lithograph pictorial title] El Libro Rojo. 1520-1867. Por V. Riva-Palacio y Manuel Payno [below image] P. Miranda, inv. | Litografia de H. Iriarte. | S. Hernandez, litogo. Mexico: Diaz de León y White, Editores, 1870. [2, half title printed in red], 1-151 [1, blank] 153 [1, blank] pp. (text printed in double columns), 39 lithographs on tinted grounds (including illustrated lithograph title with white highlights; border, book title, and authors printed in red; medallion portraits of Moctezuma, Cuauhtémoc, Iturbide, and Maximilian), the Plague plate duo-tone tinting, subjects of plates are historical scenes from Mexican history, mostly of executions and torture. Plate list at end of text calls for 37 plates (the short count of the index is because the last two plates on Maximilian and his generals Miramón and Mejía were made into two plates rather than one). Folio (44.2 x 32.4 cm), late nineteenth or early twentieth-century full acid-stained Mexican tree sheep with gilt borders on both covers, spine with tan leather labels and raised bands, top edges tinted red, marbled endpapers. Engraved bookplate with initials R.F. on front pastedown. Light shelf wear, front hinge split (holding strong). Other than faint scattered foxing, the text and plates are very fine. This book of painful but absorbing interest is notoriously difficult to find in fine condition and complete.

     First edition. Mathes, Mexico on Stone, pp. 38: “Hernández and Iriarte produced lithographs drawn by Primitivo Miranda for the famous El Libro Rojo by Riva Palacio and Manuel Payno, printed by Díaz de León y White in 1870”; 63 (Díaz de León), 64 (Iriarte). Palau 269858. Porrúa Catalogue 5 (1949) 3765. Ramos 614. Sabin 58274.

     This is a book one can never forget, even if one tries. The suite of large lithograph plates dramatically portrays plague, murders, tragedies, and a pantheon of political and religious martyrs in Mexico, from the Conquest to the French Intervention. Martyrdom has been democratized. No class, religion, or gender is excluded. Its ecumenical approach to civil violence includes Indian kings who fought on opposite sides of the Conquest; conquistador Pedro de Alvarado and Aztec emperor Moctezuma; Jewish Mexicans burned by the Inquisition and priests massacred by Native Americans; and marooned African slaves to a Spanish archbishop. The illustrations include hangings, plague-ridden Natives covered with lesions, rebellious slaves' heads on pikes, a victim hung from a hook in a cellar, fallen heroes on the battlefield, victims facing the firing squad, and other such violent tableaus of premeditated, ritualized murder (the earlier plates tend to be more gruesome).

     An example of one of several lithographs having a Conquest theme is the stark moonlit scene depicting the 1522 hanging of Xicoténcatl the Younger (d. 1521), Cortés’ Tlaxcallan ally accused of treachery who gave the Spanish soldiers a run for their money with ambush strategies and inflicted many casualties on the Spanish. In the end, Cortés defeated Xicoténcatl and his forces (the actions of the Tlaxcallan war leader and prince are recorded in Cortés' letters). Early chronicles cast Xicoténcatl as a traitor who attempted to impede Spanish “liberation” of indigenous tribes from Aztec dominance. In the present work, Xicoténcatl is portrayed rather as an indigenous hero who valiantly opposed the onslaught of the Spanish.

     Another ghastly plate is the torture of Cuauhtémoc (ca. 1495-1525), Aztec ruler of Tenochtitlan (1520-1521), who through time has become a potent symbol of Mexico's triumph over foreign intervention for his statement to Cortés prior to his execution: “Now I understand your false promises and the kind of death you have had in store for me. For you are killing me unjustly. May God demand justice from you, as it was taken from me when I entrusted myself to you in my city of Mexico!” (per Bernal Díaz del Castillo). Cuauhtémoc was only twenty-five years of age when his city was simultaneously besieged by the Spanish and devastated by a smallpox epidemic, courtesy of the European invaders. After a strong defense against Cortés and his soldiers, Cuauhtémoc surrendered and handed his knife to Cortés and asked that he kill him. But Cortés had other things in mind for the valiant young ruler. The plate shows Cortés' men engaging in torture (holding the young ruler's feet in fire) in a failed attempt to make him reveal hidden Aztec treasures which did not exist anyway. Cortés in full armor kneels next to the ruler, and a baffled priest looks on. On a later expedition to Honduras, Cortés had the defiant Cuauhtémoc executed for allegedly conspiring to kill the Spanish. See notes below from Christopher Fulton's article, “Cuauhtémoc Awakened.”

     The person generally considered to be one of the first persons of mixed European and indigenous American ancestry is shown enduring the torment “de la agua y de los cordeles.” He is strapped to a stark wooden table with a wheel for tightening ropes across his body while being waterboarded with a large funnel. This is Martín Cortés (El Mestizo), the son of Hernán Cortés and Doña Marina (also known as La Malinche, the more profane moniker La Chingada, etc.), the Nahua woman of the Gulf Coast who played a pivotal role in the Conquest, acting as interpreter, advisor, lover, and intermediary for Hernán Cortes. Martín was charged with conspiracy against the Spanish king.

     Los treinta y tres negroes shows the horrendous 1612 execution of thirty-three Black slaves suspected of rebellion, played out before a violent, clamoring, drunken mob of onlookers. (In the accompanying essay, Riva Palacio suggests perhaps the Council wanted to make a rude example to calm nerves and intimidate Blacks.) “The scene was a match for that of the chilling horrors of Nero.” Egged on by the crowd, the executioners were not content to hang the twenty-nine men and four women, and proceeded to decapitate them and mount their heads on long poles.

     Some of the plates depict persons accused by the Inquisition of practicing Judaism, such as Mariana de Carbajal, wife of the governor of Nuevo León who was put to the stake in 1596. Isabela de Carbajal is shown bare-breasted before the Inquisitor, Isabel Rodriguez is being tortured on the rack and pinion, and a terrified Mariana de Carbajal is about to be burned at the stake with other members of her family who have already been ignited.

     As the plates go forward in time, they are not so visually chilling, particularly those of revolutionaries. A dynamic Hidalgo is shown riding a white horse through an arch, as a mixed group of populace cheer him on. Riva Palacio's accompanying text uses Hidalgo's death as a way to project an organic national sovereignty that transcended political rivalries. Riva Palacio's grandfather, early revolutionary general Vicente Guerrero, is not shown at his execution. Instead he strikes a noble pose holding a fine sword and wearing a short fur-lined jacket, white trousers, and high leather boots. Likewise in noble pose is dashing revolutionary Francisco Xavier Mina (1789-1817), who launched an ill-fated expedition from Galveston that resulted in his execution at the age of twenty-eight at Fort San Gregorio with twenty-five companions but resulted in some of the earliest Texas imprints due to Samuel Bangs accompanying the expedition (see Handbook of Texas Online). The final sacrificial victim illustrated is Maximilian, who rather than facing the firing squad is elegantly decked out in a handsome dressing gown gently offering his hand to a group of men, as his executioners wait outside his door. The text accompanying the plate states that Mariano Riva Palacio (father of the main author of El Libro Rojo) accompanied Maximilian to Querétaro and worked for him there as he waited to meet his fate. The text states that before Maximilian faced the firing squad, he graciously gave Mariano Riva Palacio his horse and saddle. Medical interest is found in a terrible view of Mexico at the time of the 1577 epidemic with priests ministering to the ill and dying.

     Although the plates include some that are repulsive in subject matter, they are superbly executed. Especially dramatic are some of the scenes set at night, with technically superb chiaroscuro. The large size of the lithographs makes them all the more dramatic. Mexican illustrator and lithographer Santiago Hernández (1833-1908) served as interpreter and chief draughtsman to the Comisión Científica del Imperio and became caricaturist of La Orquesta (see herein) after the death of Escalante. He collaborated with well-known Mexican lithographer Hesiquio Iriarte on the illustrations for this work. The striking images are from original artwork by Primitivo Miranda (fl. 1858-1889), Mexican sculptor and neoclassical painter.

     In Empires, Nations, and Natives: Anthropology and State-making (Duke University Press, 2005, pp. 176-177), Benoît de L'Estoile et al. assert that “one important move in the direction [of a unified and political Mexico] was the publication of a book written by Vicente Riva Palacio and Manuel Payno, both of whom would later lead the manufacture of a new history of Mexico. El Libro Rojo was among the first in a series of lavishly printed and illustrated volumes of the final third of the nineteenth century. It is a brief history of civil violence, told by way of an illustrated look at executions and assassinations, much as if it were a book of saints.... El Libro Rojo sought to shape a unified Mexico by acknowledging a shared history of suffering.”

     El Libro rojo marks a trend to nationalism in Mexican art. “With the reorganization of the Academy into the National School of Fine Arts in 1867, and its placement under the direction of the Secretary of Public Instruction, painters and sculptors joined their literary brethren in forging a distinctively Mexican art based on national subjects and themes, and among the topics to which they gravitated was the drama of the Conquest. Although Cuauhtémoc was not immediately adopted by painters and sculptors, he was immediately represented by Primitivo Mirando and Joaquín Heredia for El Libro rojo, a history of Mexico written in 1869-1870 by liberal intellectuals Vicente Riva Palacio, Manuel Payno, and others.... In the image of the torture from El Libro rojo designed by Primitivo Miranda, and executed by Hesiquio Iriarte, Cuauhtémoc suffers a fate which can be likened to Mexico's recent travails. By depicting the king held prisoner by armed guards and abused by the greedy Alderete and his henchmen, while a mendicant friar stands idly to the side, the print hints at the collusion of the Church, the military, and exploitive business interests which had bedeviled Mexico during its first half-century of Independence, and which had become exacerbated by French occupation.... The lithographs for El Libro rojo were made in the period of the Restored Republic, which also saw the birth of Mexican historiography and the introduction of the historia patria into all secondary school curricula” (Christopher Fulton, “Cuauhtémoc Awakened” in Estudios de Historia Moderna y Contemporánea de México, No. 35, January-June 2008, pp. 17-18).

     Voluminously published Riva Palacio (1832-1896), liberal lawyer and author, was the grandson of Vicente Guerrero, Mexico's first Black-Native American President, known as “the Mexican Abraham Lincoln,” who was assassinated in 1831. “The grandson's work [was] an extension of the basic outlook of grandfather in that grandson was raised in a house of Guerreroistas, lived for a time in his grandfather's home town, and spent additional time in his youth on the ranches of ex-generals and political aides of the fallen president. When Guerrero's grandson got the opportunity to go over the Inquisition records [38,000 little boxes of data], he made the most of it.... Riva Palacio wove together the saga of the different ethnic groups of Mexico.... The rich tapestry that makes the culture of Mexico is praised by Riva Palacio.... In terms of Mexican cultural nationalism, Guerrero's grandson Vicente Riva Palacio is probably the single most important figure in terms of combined literary and historical work produced” (Theodore G. Vincent, “The Contributions of Mexico's First Black Indian President, Vicente Guerrero” in The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 86, No. 2, Spring 2001, pp. 148-159). Between 1858 and 1860 Riva Palacio was imprisoned because of his liberal ideas. After prison, he became congressman and wrote for the newspaper La Orquesta. “Riva Palacio is considered, by some critics, to be the creator of the historical novel in Mexico. He wrote without concern for literary merit, and openly declared that his only aim was to entertain his readers with dramatic, hair-raising adventures” (Eladio Cortés, Dictionary of Mexican Literature, Greenwood Press, 1992, pp. 585-588).

     Riva Palacio's co-author, Manuel Payno (1810-1894), was a journalist, novelist, and diplomat who is credited with initiating the serial novel in Mexico. An unswerving liberal, like Riva Palacio, Payno was persecuted by Santa-Anna and forced to emigrate to the United States until the dictator's fall. After Payno's return to Mexico, he was jailed during the French intervention. Only after the re-establishment of the Republic was he able to resume his far-ranging liberal work (Eladio Cortés, Dictionary of Mexican Literature, Greenwood Press, 1992, pp. 502-503). Given the background and liberal tendencies of these two intellectuals, it is not surprising that Riva Palacio and Payno would graphically commemorate those who were martyrs to Mexico, especially at the hands of the Inquisition. Other authors of the essays include Juan A. Mateos (Eladio Cortés, Dictionary of Mexican Literature, Greenwood Press, 1992, pp. 502-503) and Rafael Martínez de la Torre (poet and defender of Maximilian).


Sold. Hammer: $1,500.00; Price Realized: $1,837.50.

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