November 9, 2011

Book on Geometry, Practice, and Patterns

This landscape-shaped printed work is the first treatise on tailoring published in Spain. It paved the way for other such works in the late 16th century and early 17th century. The author was Juan de Alcega, born in Guipuzcoa, in the Basque region of northern Spain, and a tailor by trade. In his dedication, to a theologian called Tejada, he describes "this, my small work, something brand new, never seen so far in our Spain." The usefulness of the work was confirmed by Hernan Gutierrez, tailor to the princess of Portugal, and Juan Lopez de Burgette, tailor to the duke of Alba, who, on August 21, 1579, after examining the work and the knowledge of the author, concluded that "this book is quite good, useful and beneficial for the entire republic" and recommended that the author be given a license so that it could be printed and sold at a fair price. The license was granted by the king on September 13, 1579, and the book was printed in Madrid in 1580. Alcega’s work is structured in three parts, through which he intends to pass on his knowledge, even though, as he informs the reader in the preface, several times he was on the verge of quitting, either "because I greatly considered the costs and several patterns that were necessary" or because "there were so many contradictions and disputes I faced in the Royal Advice on the printing of this book." The first part explains the origin of the "ellwand that we use in these Kingdoms of Castile," which is divided in "twelfth, and eighth, and sixth, and fourth, and third, and half of an ell." It then mentions how the measurements of cloth were to be reduced from "two ellwands of width" to any other size. Using fractions, Alcega devotes 22 chapters to this subject, so that anyone can correctly order the cloth, silk, or other fabric necessary to make men’s or women's clothing without either wasting or running short of fabric. In the second part, Alcega presents 135 traças (patterns) used to make clothing for men, women, clergy, commanders of military orders, suits for jousts and reed games, and even flags of war. The quality of the designs is noteworthy and contrasts with the neglect seen in the writing of the accompanying explanatory texts. In the third part, Alcega specifies the amount of fabric necessary to produce each item of clothing, using tables that combine three possible lengths of the items and 14 possible widths of the fabrics that might be used.

Four Books on the Nature and Virtues of Plants and Animals for Medicinal Purposes in New Spain

Francisco Hernández de Toledo (1514–87) was a court physician, who in 1570 was ordered by King Philip II of Spain to embark on a scientific mission to New Spain (as Mexico was then called) to study the medicinal plants of the New World. For seven years Hernández traveled throughout the country, collecting specimens and gathering information on how plants were used by indigenous physicians. He returned to Spain in 1577 with 16 volumes of notes and with numerous illustrations made by three indigenous painters who assisted him in his work. Hernández died in 1587 without seeing his work published. His editor, Recchi, also died, in 1595, without being able to finish the work. Quatro libros de la naturaleza y virtudes de las plantas y animales que estan receuidos en el uso de la medicina en la Nueva España (Four books on the nature and virtues of plants and animals for medicinal purposes in New Spain) is a Spanish translation of the original Latin of Hernández. It was made by Francisco Ximenez, a friar and nurse at the Convent of San Domingo de Mexico, and published in Mexico in 1615. Because none of the handwritten copies that Hernández left in Mexico survived, Ximenez used a copy of Recchi's summary for this edition. Ximenez added some personal observations and removed the illustrations. The translation and new observations as to pharmaceutical methods, doses, and preparations showed an advance in knowledge over the original findings of Hernández, but they were not part of the broader European scientific revolution, which generally bypassed the Spanish science of the day.

Atlas of Battista Agnese

Battista Agnese (circa 1500–1564) was an Italian cartographer, born in Genoa, who worked in Venice between 1536 and 1564 and became one of the most important figures in Renaissance cartography. He created approximately 100 manuscript atlases, of which more than 70 are extant, either with his signature or attributed to his school. His atlases, which are considered works of art for their high quality and beauty, are mostly portolan, or nautical, atlases printed on vellum for high-ranking officials or wealthy merchants. This 1544 atlas contains 15 full-page illuminated plates, with detailed maps and geographic figures, in bright colors, decorated with cherubs on clouds. Some of the maps are decorated with traces of gold. The oval mappa mundi has cherubs, or wind heads, in blue and gold clouds, which represent the classical 12 wind points out of which evolved the modern compass points. The most detailed maps show complete coasts, ports, and rivers and were the navigation aids of the day, but they do not generally represent inland features other than towns and cities. The atlas includes an armillary sphere and a finely drawn zodiac chart.

Compendium of Cosmography

Pedro de Medina (1493–1567) was a cartographer, author, and a founder of marine science. He lived in Seville, the center of the Spanish ocean-going commerce and the starting point for ships headed to the New World. He worked in an environment shaped by the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade), the Spanish government agency that controlled exploration and colonization, although he was never employed by it. In 1545 Medina published his most important work, El arte de navegar (The art of navigation), an overview of existing knowledge on this subject. The book was internationally disseminated and quickly translated into several European languages. Medina also wrote historical and philosophical books, including Libro de las grandezas y cosas memorables de España (Book of the great and memorable deeds of Spain), Libro de la verdad (Book of truth), and Crónica de los excelentes señores duques de Medina Sidonia (Chronicle of the excellent ducal lords of Medina Sidonia). Suma de Cosmographia (Compendium of cosmography) is considered an extract of El arte de navegar, containing information on astrology and navigation and written for a nonspecialist audience. The folio-size manuscript on parchment includes 11 beautiful astronomical figures with accompanying text. The illustrations are carefully drawn and illuminated in gold and in bright colors, with the initial letters of text pages in highlighted golden insets. A fine mappa mundi on a double-page spread, illuminated in red, blue, green, sienna, and gold, represents the known world and reflects the state of geographic knowledge in Spain and Portugal at that time. Prominently shown on the map is the line of demarcation, established in the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, between the domains of Spain and Portugal.

Writings of Lope de Vega: Daza Codex

Félix Arturo Lope de Vega (1562–1635) was a playwright and poet during Spain’s literary Golden Age and known for his prodigious output. He wrote some 3,000 sonnets, three novels, four novellas, nine epic poems, and about 1,800 plays. This manuscript, known as the Daza Codex, is a signed draft, written by Lope between 1631 and 1634, near the end of his life. It is not a book in itself but a cartapacio misceláneo (miscellaneous notebook) that belonged to the Duke of Sessa, Lope’s patron and first collector. The last 96 pages are bound in upside down. The contemporary binding, in parchment, presents on the cover, as a title, the following note in ink: "Here are the eclogues," thus indicating the contents, which are mainly poems on pastoral themes, although some prose is also included. The notebook includes both unpublished works and fragments of several known works. The latter include La Dorotea (Lope’s main prose work, an extensive dialogue that he preferred to call "action in prose," published in 1632), and "Amarilis, huerto desecho" (Amarilis, abandoned kitchen garden). The works are interspersed in the manuscript, indicating Lope's method of creating several pieces at one time.

The Poem of the Cid

The document shown here is the sole surviving manuscript copy of Poema del Cid (The poem of the Cid), the crowning piece of Castilian medieval epic literature and the earliest Spanish epic poem to have survived complete. The poem recounts the story of Castilian nobleman Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, who lived in the second half of the 11th century. El Cid (meaning lord) battles against the Moors in an effort to restore his honor after being unjustly accused of stealing money from the king. The poem, in its written form, appears to be based on a series of previous oral versions, which must have started spreading shortly after the death of the Cid. The authorship and date of composition are still debated, however, and scholars have put forward numerous hypotheses about the origins of the work. This manuscript, known as the Codex of Per Abat, was copied in the 14th century from an earlier text dated 1207 and signed by Per Abat (Abbot Peter). Several pages of the manuscript are missing, and the text contains corrections and annotations made by different people and at different times. The sole ornamentation in the manuscript is one highlighted capital letter and two feminine heads on page 31 recto, which may represent the daughters of the Cid, who play a prominent part in the story. Many fragments of the manuscript have been blackened by chemicals used in the late 19th century with the intention of heightening the inks and making the manuscript easier to read. The copy was donated to the National Library of Spain in 1960 by the Juan March Foundation, which purchased it from the family of Spanish medievalist Ramón Menéndez Pidal.