The Natural History Atlas of Philip II, also known as Codex Pomar, is a pictorial manuscript featuring 218 watercolor paintings of plants and animals covering only one side of the page; only one page has illustrations on both sides. The manuscript holds great historical and scientific relevance and can be regarded as both a reflection and an actual component of the great revolution in natural knowledge taking place in the sixteenth century.
A Masterpiece of Botanical and Zoological Iconography
An exceptional source of botanical and zoological iconography from the Renaissance, the manuscript displays a single illustration on almost all pages; only five pages include two or three paintings. Sixty illustrations represent animals, the remaining ones are all dedicated to plants. The plants and animals in the illustrations are unequally divided between the Old World and the New World. The ones belonging to the former can be furtherly divided into species proper of western Europe and the Mediterranean, and exotic species, that is, species from the Near East and from regions of Asia and Africa.
Among exotic animals, we can find for example the Guinea hen, the rhinoceros, the glossy or black ibis, or the great lizards of the palm oases and deserts. As for plants, mainly medical, the majority of them is from Europe. Some decorative species are also featured, such as three kinds of narcissus and five varieties of tulip. The codex also includes illustrations of seven animals and twenty-five plants of American origin.
The name of each species is reported on one or two manuscript lines, generally in Latin, Castilian, or both languages. Nineteen Valencian words, two Italian, and six in Nahuatl or other American Indian languages can also be found in the codex.
The First Scientific Expedition to the New World
During his reign, Philip II organized the first modern scientific expedition, which investigated Mexican natural history from 1571 to 1577 under the direction of Francisco Hernández, physician, naturalist, and one of the great scientific figures of the period. Upon his return to the Spanish court, Hernández submitted to the king a great deal of material from his expedition, among which were paintings of plants and animals on pine panels, and thirty-eight volumes with paintings and texts. All this precious material was kept in the library of El Escorial, but apparently it got destroyed in the fire of 1671.
Luckily, the authors of the illustrations in the Codex Pomar had access to the illustrations from the Hernández expedition before their loss, and could use them as a model for the pictures in the codex. However, a good number of plants and animals were almost certainly painted from life, from specimens in the royal gardens and zoological collections.
As for the identity of the artists, many pictures of the codex display the typical features of the painting of Jacopo Ligozzi, a painter of the Florentine court especially famous for his vast series of paintings of plants and animals. However, studies have excluded Ligozzi’s direct authorship of the paintings in the Pomar Codex, reducing his relevance to a stylistic similarity or to just an influence. Instead, the author or authors of the codex illustrations must be located among a conspicuous number of Italian artists who went to El Escorial around 1580 and worked in its scriptorium.
A Royal Gift for his Physician
Philip II, King of Spain, commissioned the codex for Jaime Honorato Pomar, his physician, who was also a renowned botanist of the time. This fact is made clear by a note on the inside back cover of the manuscript, reading: “The king Sr. Philip II gave this book to his physician, Dr. Horonato Pomar, Valencian, professor of herbs in the University of Valencia; his son Master Pomar inherited it and when he died his mother, the widow of Dr. Pomar, sold it to me for 50 pounds, painters having adjudged it to be worth 100 pounds.” The codex is today preserved at the Historical Library of the University of Valencia.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Natural History Atlas of Philiph II - Pomar Codex": Atlas de historia natural de Felipe II or Códice Pomar facsimile edition, published by Vicent Garcia Editores, 1990Request Info / Price