Thursday, November 03, 2005

Alonso de Ovalle's Chile

Alonso de Ovalle (1603-1651) from Chile joined the Jesuit order of priests as a young man and studied theology and philosophy and did missionary work among the native indians. He was sent to Europe to obtain resources and monks to continue the missionary work. When he got there he was astonished to find that most people in Europe had not heard of his beloved Chile.

So de Ovalle wrote an historical 'encyclopedic' book about his country. Histórica Relación del Reyno de Chile was first published in latin in 1646 and translated into Italian the following year. Although he consulted widely for factual material, the majority of the work consists of his describing all that he knew in relation to the geography and minerals and natives and customs and flora/fauna and the colonial military powers of Chile.

I didn't note any information about the illustrations. I'm not even sure if they were issued when the book was first published. The imagery is striking (when it's not obviously filched from traditional renaissance sources) and not overly positive in its representation of the indians. The Christ on a tree motif is surreal and I wonder if it's an original for this work, if anyone knows? [The titles of each illustration are in the image URLs]

[The image below is not from de Ovalle - it comes from the 'Dutch in Chile' section of Memoria Chilena]


Anonymous said...

I'd guess that the christ-in-the-tree is an 'enhanced' rendering of an actual Chilean tree that was thought to somewhat resemble the crucifixion. A couple of decades after this, we see De Ovalle's fellow-Jesuit Athanasius Kircher recording various examples of similar prodigious images found in stones, etc.

peacay said...

Maybe you're right. It's a lot to speculate upon. The timing, who directed the engraving and if, as seems likely, the work was done in europe. There will have only been de Ovalle as a source presumably. Kudos to the designer for the imagery melding.

peacay said...

Rather .. kudos in the event that it came from an artist's mind rather than from a Chilean story/myth/nature.

P E C E said...

I'm sure that this Christ on a tree is a poetical representation for the Canelo, a sacred tree for Mapuche people, natives from this land.

peacay said...

Thanks PECE, I'm sure you are right. See here [trans.] and Drimys Winteri (Canelo tree).

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