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Topographic map of Mexico with line indicating ancient migration route. Surrounding the map are illustrations of archaeological relics, Mayan temples and ruins.
"Carta Historica y Arqueologica" from Atlas pintoresco é histórico de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. García Cubas, Antonio, 1885. Geography and Map Division.

Antonio García Cubas and His Remarkable Atlas of Mexico

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Antonio García Cubas is recognized as one of the most skilled and accomplished cartographers in Mexican history. Out of his extensive body of work, which serves to chronicle Mexican geography through the country’s rapid modernizations of the late 19th century, one of García Cubas’s most visually memorable works may be the Atlas pintoresco é histórico de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos from 1885.

García Cubas was born in 1832 in Mexico City, where he would spend his career. Orphaned at a young age, he grew up to study geography and became a member of the Sociedad Mexicana de Geografía y Estadística, an organization founded in 1833 dedicated to supporting wide-ranging mapping and statistical studies of Mexico, which had become independent from the Spanish Empire only twelve years prior. García Cubas’s cartographic and written work spans from the 1850s up to his death in 1912. The Geography and Map Division holds numerous exceptional cartographic works by García Cubas in addition to his Atlas pintoresco é histórico, including the 1863 Carta general de la República Mexicana and the 1884-86 Atlas mexicano, which features detailed maps of each Mexican state.

Map of Mexico, featuring of natural Mexican landscapes.topography and state borders, inset maps of major port areas, river and mountain diagrams, and two illustrations
Carta general de la República Mexicana. García Cubas, Antonio, 1863. Geography and Map Division.

Atlas pintoresco é histórico features 13 maps, including 11 encompassing all of Mexico and two larger scale maps of the Valley of Mexico and Mexico City. The maps cover a wide array of subjects, from political geography and ethnography, to hydrography and agriculture. Each map features rich cartographic detail accompanied by graphs and other data visualizations that provide additional statistical information on numerous subjects. Outside of the maps themselves, the most striking visual elements of the atlas are the vivid illustrations surrounding each map. Incorporating prints from Carl Nebel, Frederick Catherwood, and other artists, the illustrations bring Mexico’s diverse human and natural landscapes into artistic focus. Overall, the atlas serves to tell a visual, rather than text-based, narrative.

Taking a closer look, “Carta Etnografica” maps the distinct ethnic groups across Mexico and features illustrations of different cultural expressions, clothing, and ways of life from Chihuahua in the north to Chiapas in the south.

Map of Mexico ethnic groups surrounded by 26 small illustrations of local clothing, cultural expressions, and scenes from people from various regions of Mexico.
“Carta Etnografica” from Atlas pintoresco é histórico de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. García Cubas, Antonio, 1885. Geography and Map Division.

“Carta Orografica” delineates Mexico’s mountainous landscape with an illustrated diagram comparing heights and lively depictions of prominent peaks, including numerous volcanoes.

Topographic map of Mexico surrounded by illustrations of major Mexican mountains and volcanoes.
“Carta Orografica” from Atlas pintoresco é histórico de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. García Cubas, Antonio, 1885. Geography and Map Division.

“Vias de Comunicación y Movimiento Marítimo” focuses on railroads and shipping routes to showcase Mexico as a modern, interconnected state, from illustrations of busy ports and railroads crossing rugged terrain, to the map itself highlighting maritime routes connecting Mexico to the rest of the world.

Map of Mexican railroads and shipping routes, surrounded by illustrations of railroads in mountainous landscapes and bustling port cities.
“Vias de Comunicación y Movimiento Marítimo” from Atlas pintoresco é histórico de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. García Cubas, Antonio, 1885. Geography and Map Division.

A historical context may help to understand the motivations behind the Atlas pintoresco é histórico. The atlas was published during the 1876-1910 reign of General Porfirio Díaz, who, despite his authoritarian rule, presided over transformative changes in Mexican society, from massive economic growth fueled by foreign investment to new ideas about Mexican national identity. Atlas pintoresco é histórico can be seen as a showcase of Mexico for Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike. As described by art historian Magali M. Carrera in Traveling from New Spain to Mexico: Mapping Practices of Nineteenth-Century Mexico,

The Atlas presents diverse Mexicos to inspire citizens, as well as to export to the international stage. For Mexicans, remembering is possible through the atlas and seeing is believing as we view the answers to [Carlos María de] Bustamante’s questions: “¿Quienes somos? ¿de donde venimos? ¿para donde caminamos?”

Rich in historical meaning, Antonio García Cubas’s body of work, and Atlas pintoresco é histórico in particular, can be appreciated today as a lively celebration of Mexican geography, history and culture.

Comments (3)

  1. Great post, thanks for sharing!

  2. Each map is impressive in this exquisite atlas. I’m so glad it’s digitized and highlighted in this post.

  3. “Fascinating read! Antonio García Cubas’s remarkable Atlas of Mexico is a true testament to his dedication and expertise. Thanks for shedding light on this invaluable historical treasure!”

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