Images of the Underground

Visual representations of mine interiors in colonial Latin America are relatively scarce in early modern imprints. A significant number of images, however, especially of Potosí's famous silver mountain, circulated widely in seventeenth and eighteenth century European publications.


6. Theodor de Bry, [America. Part 4. German] (Frankfurt, 1601).

This early seventeenth century German publication erroneously describes the silver mines of Potosí as gold mines. The image and accompanying text both emphasize the dangers and difficulties faced by indigenous mine workers. The text strongly echoes José de Acosta's 1590 description of the Potosí mines and the perils that labor below ground entailed.


7. Erasmus Francisci, Guineischer und americanisher Blumen-Pusch: welcher einen ergetzlichen Geruch (Nuremberg, 1669).


8. Athanasius Kircher, Mundus subterraneus (Amsterdam, 1678).


9. Franz Ernst Brückmann, Magnalia dei in locis subterraneis oder Unterirdische Schatz-cammer aller Königreiche und Länder (Braunschweig, 1727).

Variations on de Bry's cut-away image showing workers inside the silver mines of Potosí appeared in numerous seventeenth and early eighteenth century European publications. The ongoing circulation of this image is indicative of enduring European fascination for Potosí as well as of the sense of horror evoked by descriptions of conditions below ground.


10. Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri, Voyage du tour du monde (Paris, 1719).

This illustration of a mine in New Spain accompanies the travel account of an early eighteenth century Italian visitor. In similar fashion to cut-away representations of Potosí's silver mountain, the image places emphasis on physical dangers experienced by workers below the surface.


11. Richard Johnson, The history of South America (London, 1789).

This brief general history of South America, written for a youthful audience, does not fail to include an illustration of workers in the Potosí mines. Although most laborers at Potosí were technically free, a labor draft known as the mita endured throughout the whole colonial period.

  the Exhibition may be seen in the reading room from April 2015 through august 2015.