About the Natural History of the Indies


Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (1478–1557) was one of the most important early chroniclers of the Spanish presence in the Americas. Born in Madrid of noble parents from Asturias, at age 12 he became a page to the Duke of Villahermosa. He witnessed the surrender of Granada and, in 1492, entered the service of Prince Don Juan I, whose death in 1497 changed the path of his life. After living several years in Italy, Oviedo returned to Spain around 1505 and, from then onward, began traveling between the Iberian Peninsula and the West Indies, where he occupied a number of colonial posts. Despite his responsibilities, he had time to write several books: the chivalrous novel Don Claribalte, published in Valencia in 1519, and this work, Sumario de historia natural o De la natural Historia de las Indias (Summary of the natural history or about the natural history of the Indies), published in Toledo in 1526. This book, which was translated into Latin and Italian by Urbano Chauventon and published in Venice in 1534, began Oviedo’s career as a chronicler of the Indies. In the preface, the author announced plans for a more extensive book. He was referring to Historia general y natural de las Indias (General and natural history of the Indies), his most important work. The latter was neither an extension of nor a sequel to the Sumario, but an entirely different work. The 19 books of the first part of the history were published in Seville in 1535 and the first book of the second part, in 1552, but the complete work was not published until 1851–55 by the Spanish Academy of History. In addition to being a great historian, Oviedo was an important ethnologist and naturalist. He played a key role in the history of American science, especially biology, as he was the first to study and describe, with great accuracy, many species of animals and plants.

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Ramon Petras, Toledo


Title in Original Language

De la natural hystoria de las Indias

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  • The cover is an architectonical engraved woodcut in two inks with the coat of arms of Carlos V. Text with marginal apostilles. Interspersed woodcut illustrations of plants in the text

Last updated: May 11, 2015