The Silver Mine at Potosí
Watercolor on parchment
27.5 x 21.5 cm
The city of Potosí, Bolivia, stands on a barren terrace on the northern slope of the Cerro Garda de Potosí. The foundation of the city dates from 1547, two years after the discovery of silver on the Cerro. In a decree of January 28, 1547, Charles V conferred the title of "villa imperial" on the city and from that date to 1800 it was one of the most important silver mines in the world. In 1611 the population of Potosí was reported to be 160,000. The view of Potosí in the Hispanic Society dates from ca. 1585 and thus takes on great significance as one of the earliest depictions of this celebrated site. The page was subsequently bound in a volume which also includes astrological and cosmographic drawings as well as sea charts by an anonymous Portuguese cartographer.
The artist has depicted the Casa de la Moneda in the foreground with the furnaces and melting pots, and large piles of silver ore. Many Indians and Spanish "mayordomos" can be seen occupied in the various stages of the melting process. The Cerro rises up in the background, with a cross on its summit. To the east we find the road to Tucamán, and to the west, a hillock called Tollochi. The slopes of the Cerro are filled with caravans of llamas and herders, horsemen, and others going to work in the mines.
Text and images © Hispanic Society of America.