The National Library of Peru preserves a rich visual documentary heritage of the 19th century. Of this material, the albums of customary engravings and watercolors stand out, images of the different types of inhabitants and their occupations in a post-independence Lima.
Where do costumbrista images come from?
It is a visual genre developed in the 19th century, heir to an international industry with various supports such as illustrations, paintings and engravings for different functions such as the registration of scientific trips, edit publications or illustrating cabinets.
Throughout 1800, this industry specialized in the collection, creation and reproduction of imaginaries about the national identities of various countries and continents, first responding to the demand of travelers and later to local needs.
The 1871 Praetoria album was named for the written word and figure on its old cover. It contains twenty-five watercolor and fourteen illuminated lithographs of types and popular customs of the people of Lima in the 19th century. The themes and compositions of the imagenes were widespread, widely copied and reproduced to satisfy an avid market.
[Butler] (Around the middle of the 19th century) by AnonymousNational Library of Peru
A mysterious item
Due to the international demand that required images to classify the different types of inhabitants and their occupations about this side of the world, the production of costumbrista images was carried out in a sustained manner.
We do not know where the Praetoria album was made but it has descriptions in the German language, leading to speculate that it was compiled for a European collector.
Who were the authors of these images?
The images of types or customs did not usually have a signature. In the case of the Praetoria album, the experts did not reach a consensus: some of the watercolors -or all- could be by the renowned watercolorist Francisco "Pancho" Fierro (Lima, 1807-1879).
Meanwhile, two lithographs have the signature of the famous painter Ignacio Merino (Piura, 1817 - Paris, 1876). Although both Peruvian artists elaborated together costumbrista prints, there is no certain conclusion of the authorship of the works of the Praetoria album.
What or who do we find in the Praetoria album?
Among the everyday types that were commonly portrayed in these collections of images, there are merchants with their various and, to foreign eyes, strange services. Throughout the 19th century, the benefits and problems of ambulatory commerce were discussed, and was subject to multiple reforms in favor of the urban and hygienist reorganization of the city.
We also find traces of customs, meetings and popular events held in the capital and its surroundings, such as cockfights or bullfights. Lima was recognized by many travelers as a lively and bustling city, although little developed. Starting in the second half of the 19th century, successive governments improved the decoration of public space, with the consequent appropriation of these new spaces by the population.
Parallel to the movement and bustle, a fervent religious life coexisted based on the Catholic faith, an inheritance from the colonial past. The old City of the Kings was surrounded by convents, monasteries and churches, and had a busy calendar of events, including processions and religious staging in streets and squares.
In addition to showing customs and popular types, the Praetoria album allows us to reflect on the diversity of the citizens of Lima and their role in the first republican society. Although independence obtained the promise of equality, in practice a segmented and racialized society was maintained, strengthening the association between the color of the skin and the social condition of the individual.
Also, the album contains various female images. Let us remember that women at the beginning of the 19th century did not enjoy equal rights, they were expected to fulfill a subordinate role and in their education service to the home was emphasized.
Even so, many of them performed important functions, albeit silent, participating in the debate or dissemination of separatist ideas, being part of the independence struggle and, later, in the warlord struggles of the young Peruvian republic.