José Atanasio Echeverría
Wappen des Königlichen Konsuls von Havanna mit Merkur als Wappenhalter, 1794 - 1797
This finely executed drawing was composed with brush and gray ink, followed by strokes of black ink. The figures were precisely defined in pen and black ink. It was squared for transfer to another medium or to be enlarged, presumably as another drawing for an engraving, and the technique employed suggests that it was intended for an engraving rather than an etching. Still, given its small size, it may have been intended for the frontispiece of a book, which would not have required enlargement. If the intention was to obtain another drawing for transfer to a copper plate, it would have been more common-and easier-to trace it, so it is not entirely clear why it bears a grid.
The drawing shows Hermes, the god of commerce, on an island, seated on merchandise with the caduceus at his feet. He supports and points to the coat of arms of Havana: the imperial crown above three towers within a wreath, with a key on a blue ground (represented in heraldry by horizontal hatching). Behind the coat of arms are a royal palm (which also appears as an emblem on the Cuban coat of arms that was created in the mid-nineteenth century), a cask, a cornucopia with fruits (and possibly coins), and an anchor in reference to overseas trade.
This type of iconography matches the emblem of the Royal Consulate of Havana set out in the Royal Seal for the Erection of the Consulate of Havana, which was issued in Aranjuez on April 4, 1794. Article LIII of the charter stipulates: “In its Tribunal and Board Meetings, the Consulate will have the status of a Lordship and will use as its escutcheon the arms of the city wreathed in figures alluding to its institute. It will always be immediately subject to my Royal Authority and under the sovereign protection which I so accord it.”
José Atanasio Echeverría's drawing belongs to the type of emblems customarily employed in the frontispieces of similar publications, including Antonio de Capmany y Montpalau's Code of the Maritime Customs of Barcelona, Vulgarly known until now as the Book of the Consulate, which was published by the Royal Board and Consulate of Commerce of Barcelona in 1791. Its title page bore an engraving with that city's allegory of commerce, presented with very similar iconography.
It is therefore quite likely that Echeverría's drawing was intended to preside over publications by the consulate in Havana, although there are no known examples with that image.
In March 1794 the explorer Martin Sessé asked to complete his primarily botanical exploration of Central America with a journey to Guatemala, Cuba, Santo Domingo, and Puerto Rico. In June 1795 he arrived in Cuba with Jaime Senseve and Echeverría. After less than a year of research in Havana and a brief stay in Puerto Rico (March 1796), they waited in Havana for permission to proceed to Santo Domingo. During that sojourn, in 1797 they met up with the expedition organized by the Count of Mopox, which Echeverría and José Estevez joined as a result of better funding. This sheet may have been executed in Havana at that time.
1 Arregui 1983, 43-94.
2 Ibid., 92.
3 González and Rodriguez 2000, 9.