VINGBOONS, Johannes (1616/1617 – 1670), Juan Gomez de (1580- ca 1647). Forma y Levantado de La Ciudad de Mexico. Ju:o Gomez de Trasmonte Ao. 1628. [Amsterdam, ca 1665].

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Johannes VINGBOONS (1616/1617-1670), Juan Gomez de TRASMONTE (1580-c. 1647)

Forma y Levantado de La Ciudad de Mexico. Ju:o Gomez de Trasmonte Ao. 1628

Ink and watercolor wash over black chalk; Two joined sheets contemporaneously laid down on 17th-century paper

"Anno 1628" [Amsterdam, ca. 1665] 

Watermark: crowned escutcheon with bear, identified by Th. Laurentius as the Arms of Switzerland, dating from 1600 - 1650 

Overall sheet size: 20 1/2 x 29 inches; Frame size: 25 x 35 1/2 inches


The first and finest depiction of Mexico City after Hernando Cortes' and one of six examples known to exist.

Spain claimed the largest empire in North America through the 16the   and early 17th Centuries.  In 1521 it created the Virreinato de Nueva Espana, or Viceroyalty of New Spain, encompassing all of its claims north of the isthmus of Panama.  At its greatest extent, the Viceroyalty covered almost all of North America from the west coast through modern Louisiana and into Florida, which it considered to include all of the lands south of English Virginia in the east.

Spain’s vast northern empire was governed from the former Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, renamed Mexico City after the conquest of Cortes.  From there, the Viceroy sent explorers, missionaries and soldiers into North America.

Spanish architects and master builders like Juan Gomes de Trasmonte (d. 1647) transformed the capital of the Viceroyalty, creating its cathedral, administrative buildings and other infrastructure.  The city was prone to devastating seasonal flooding, including a major event in 1627 which delayed the completion of the cathedral.  Opposing calls to move the capital, in 1628 Trasmonte and his Dutch colleague Adrian Boot proposed a major project to control the devastating floods with specialized dykes and canals to control the water flow.  To convince the Viceroy of the wisdom of his plan, he drew a view of the city essentially as it would look if his project were completed. Scholars Priscilla Connolly and Roberto Mayer point out that Trasmonte’s view showed the lakes “not as an insuperable problem that have to be drained, but as a natural feature that the city can enjoy if afforded sufficient protection.”   While some features of the Boot/Trasmonte’s plan were ultimately adopted, his overall vision was not adopted by the Viceroy, and competing proposals continued to circulate for decades thereafter. 

Trasmonte’s original work is now lost, but it did find its way to the Netherlands, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Spain was engaged in a war with Dutch nationalists fighting for independence. As early as 1632 an oil painting based on Trasmonte’s view of Mexico City hung in the Town Hall in Middelburg, headquarters of the powerful Dutch West India Company (WIC).  Connolly-Mayer and other scholars attribute that painting, lost to bombing in World War Two, to David Vinckboons, a talented artist and architect whose family had close ties with the WIC and the even more powerful Dutch East India Company (VOC).  How did Trasmonte’s original work come to the Netherlands to be copied?  Connolly-Mayer propose a swashbuckling tale involving the capture of the Spanish Flota on 8 September 1628 by the Dutch privateer Piet Hein, who raided under the auspices of the WIC.  

Johannes Vingboons(1616/1617-1670) was the son of David Vinckboons, and a successful artist and cartographer in his own right.  From 1640 he worked under contract to the Blaeu family, the leading map publishers of the Netherlands.  Whether he based his watercolor rendering of Mexico City on Trasmonte's original or on his father's copy is unknown.  We do know that six examples of his View of Mexico exist today:  in the Vatican Library’s “Christina Atlas”, among the “Carte di Castello” at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, in the “Blaeu-van der Hem” atlas in the OsB Vienna (authorship disputed), two unfinished versions at the BnF (authorship disputed) and this example, the only one in private hands.    

Evidence suggests that this example was part of the “Van Keulen/Bom Atlas” which belonged to descendants of the great cartographic publishing firm of Van Keulen, and which was broken up and disbursed in 1885.  This so called “secret atlas” of mostly unpublished maps for the VOC was a trove of valuable cartographic data.  Very faintgrid lines present on our copy indicate that some attempt was made to prepare it for publication, though that never occurred.  This belief is strengthened by the manuscript “7” at the upper right hand corner, which matches numeration in other maps from the Van Keulen/Bom atlas.  It is likely that this example was purchased in Antwerp sometime after 1946 and held thereafter by a family in Mexico.

Johannes Vingboon’s beautiful watercolor rendering of Trasmonte’s proposal is of inestimable importance.  It gathers in a single remarkably accurate work of art a variety of threads, tying together Spain’s aspirations in America, the history of a great metropolis, and the important contributions the Dutch made to the art, engineering and finance of the 17th century. 

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