Juan Ricardo Rey-Márquez: The Genesis of the Geography of Plants, a Case of the 18th Century Visual Epistemology in Hispanic America
The Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt (Berlin, 1769-1859) and his collaborator Aimé Bonpland (1773-1858) met the medical doctor and botanist José Celestino Mutis (Cadiz, 1732 – Bogota, 1808), during his five-year journey to America. During his short stay in Bogota, in 1801, Humboldt had access to Mutis’ Botanical Expedition of Nueva Granada, approved by the King in 1783. Two years later, just before leaving from the port of Guayaquil to Mexico, Humboldt sent Bogota the coloured drawing “Geography of Plants” with the outlines for his famous Essay on the same subject published in Paris, 1805.
I propose to study Humboldt’s Geography of Plants, taking into account the three decades of work by Mutis and his associates, especially in collaboration with Francisco José de Caldas (Popayán, 1768 – Bogotá, 1816), to reveal its political dimension. More than discussing the authorship of the concept, I would like to study the whole conception of the drawing made by Humboldt, now preserved on the National Museum of Colombia. The importance of this watercolour relies on the ideas it stands for, by constructing an imaginary space in which the profile of the Andes shows the limits for the growth of plants. Furthermore, I will link this representation with the engraving for his Essai sur la géographie des plantes, accompagnée d’un tableau physique des régions équinoxiales (1805) that shows an imaginary reunion of Europe with South and Central America. Although the engraving in this book received significant reception in the European community, Mutis’ work remained unknown until the 20th century. In response to that, I want to underline the political dimension of Mutis’ scientific work, in which the denomination Americanus Pinxit appeared as part of the signature on several drawings, made by artists from different places of the Viceroyalty under the supervision of the “brown” draughtsman Salvador Rizo Blanco (Santa Cruz de Mompox, 1760 – Bogotá, 1816).
Juan Ricardo Rey-Márquez is a Colombian researcher based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, since 2008, where he works as a researcher of the Centro de Investigación en Arte, Materia y Cultura – MATERIA, at the National University of Tres de Febrero (UNTREF). He directs the research project “Nulla dies sine linea: Drawing and Engraving as Tools for Knowledge. Visual Epistemology in Iberian America on the 17th and 18th centuries (Code 32/466 A)”. At the same time, Rey-Márquez teaches the Historiography of Art as an adjunct teacher in the Master’s degree on Visual Arts Curatory at UNTREF and Colonial Hispanic American Art in the Management and Art History undergraduate program at the Universidad del Salvador. He is a Doctoral candidate in the Universidad de Buenos Aires, under the direction of Gabriela Siracusano. His dissertation thesis is entitled “On the Imitation of the Vegetable Kingdom. Artistic Literature and Local Knowledge in the 18th century, Botanical Expedition of Nueva Granada Producing of Colour (1783-1816)”. In 2011, J. R. Rey-Márquez received a Master’s degree in Argentinean and Latin American Art History at the Instituto de Altos Estudios Sociales, Universidad Nacional de San Martín (IDAES-UNSAM), with the thesis “Emblems of the New Kingdom of Granada, Allegories of the Republic of Colombia 1794-1830, From Vassal’s Rhetoric to Patriotic Symbol” Between 2002 and 2007, he worked at the National Museum of Colombia, Bogotá, as a member of Educational Services and as researcher for the Curator in the History and Art Office.