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The Luso-Hispanic New World in Early Prints and Photographs

Hundreds of photographs and prints, in albums and rare published volumes, present the territories and countries associated with Portugal and Spain in the New World, from Mexico to Argentina, and parts of the Caribbean.

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Désiré Charnay (1828-1915). Calendrier Aztec, à Mexico. Digital ID: 111386 Désiré Charnay (1828-1915). Calendrier Aztec, à Mexico. Digital ID: 111386

Collection History

The books whose images make up this digital presentation offer a rich sampling of the extraordinary variety of NYPL's pictorial holdings on Latin America from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For instance, Jean Baptiste Debret's magnificent, three-volume Voyage pittoresque et historique au Brésil; ou Séjour d'un artiste francais au Brésil, depuis 1816 jusqu'en 1831 ... (Paris, Firmin Didot Freres, 1834-39), held in the Print Collection, provides a comprehensive iconography of colonial Brazil at its apogee. In contrast, Views of the Estrada de Ferro Madeira e Mamore Amazonas & Matta Grosso, Brazil S.A. (created 1909-1912) from the Photography Collection, is an original scrapbook compiled by men who built a railroad through nearly impenetrable rainforest, at great cost in human life. The pictures here evoke heat, danger and drudgery, albeit within a landscape of mystery and great beauty.

Images from two remarkable works document aspects of the great civilizations of Mesoamerica, as seen through European eyes. From the collections of the General Research Division, Antonio del Rio's Description of the Ruins of an Ancient city Discovered near Palenque ... (London, Henry Berthoud, 1822) is a very early work on the famous Mayan complex of Palenque in the modern Mexican state of Chiapas. Line renderings of the relief sculptures found at the site depict ritual figures and their symbolic attributes. Published forty years later, Désiré Charnay's Cités et ruines Américaines. Mitla, Palenqué, Izamal, Chichen-Itza, Uxmal (Paris, Gide, 1862-62), from the Photography Collection, offers evocative, beautifully composed, photographs of these famous sites. Charnay was an explorer and archaeologist as well as an artist, and his pictures were the first photographic studies of the great abandoned palaces and temples of Mexico.

Other books digitized for this collection present wonderful color prints published to enhance accounts of travel and exploration throughout Central America, Peru and the Southern Cone. This digital presentation will grow over time, becoming an even richer source for visual information about monuments, landscape, and local cultures.

Background

Bibliographers and agents of NYPL and its precursor libraries have always sought books and prints documenting the Spanish and Portuguese expeditions of discovery and exploration. James Lenox (1800-1880), founder of the Lenox Library, encouraged his book-buyer, the American bibliographer and dealer Henry Stevens (1819-1886), to roam though England and France in the 1840s and 50s purchasing landmark sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European imprints on the subject. Lenox also acquired early Latin American imprints and manuscripts. Among NYPL's many New World treasures is a copy of Juan de Zumárraga's Doctrina breve ... printed in Mexico City in 1543. Held in the Rare Books Division, it is the earliest surviving complete book published in the Western Hemisphere, appearing almost a century before the first book was printed in the English-speaking British colonies of North America.

In subsequent years, several of the Library's curatorial divisions have actively collected books, manuscripts, serials and other library materials related to Latin America, with plate books illustrating the landscape, natural history and culture of Latin America being a particular collecting focus.

Related Resources

Parker, Wyman W. Henry Stevens of Vermont, American Rare Book Dealer in London. (1963)

Stevens, Henry. Bibliotheca Americana. [1857] 2v.

_____. Historical and Geographical Notes on the Earliest Discoveries in America, 1453-1530. (1869, reprinted [1970])

_____. Historical Nuggets: Bibliotheca Americana, or a Descriptive Account of My Collection of Rare Books Relating to America. (1862) 2v.

_____. Recollections of James Lenox and the Formation of His Library; revised and elucidated by Victor Hugo Paltsits ... (1887, rev.ed. 1951)

Library Division(s)

NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 800,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the vast collections of The New York Public Library, including drawings, illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more.