Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Joseph Delaplaine to Thomas Jefferson, 17 August 1814

From Joseph Delaplaine

Philadelphia August 17th 1814

Dear sir,

I have been favoured with your obliging letter of the 9th instant, accompanied by another to Mr Gabriel Stuart, and at the same time received your engraved portrait of Americus Vespusius in perfect safety. For these marks of your kindness be pleased to accept my sincere thanks

The print of Vespucius is much admired by our artists, and is to be engraved in the line by one of our best engravers.

Have the goodness to inform me what date the eulogium, from which the print is taken, bears. This will be mentioned with my engraving, & at the same time I shall also state that it was furnished by yourself, an attention which I conceive to be justly due to you.1

Your letter to Mr Stuart* I read with peculiar pleasure and believe2 it to be, in every respect, well calculated to answer my purpose, and cannot fail to be perfectly satisfactory to himself. Agreeably to your request I lost no time in forwarding it to him.

At your suggestion I enquired at the Loganian & other libraries for the work of De Bry, but in vain. In speaking to my worthy friend Dr Barton on the subject, he informed me that he believed the work was not in America except in your possession. He spoke of its great value, and I at the same time mentioned that it contained an engraved portrait of Columbus, and that De Bry says it was given to him by the painter who drew the portrait of Columbus. That I derived this information from you & it added further, that an account of the print accompanied it which should give it some authority.

After this Dr Barton went to his library & produced the History of America in Spanish, entitled “Historia Del Nuevo-Mundo Escribíala D. Juan Baut. Munoz Tomo 1.

En Madrid Por La viuda De Ibarra M.D.C.C.X.C.I.I.I.3 a work with which you are doubtless acquainted. It is in one vol. when that was finished the author died. It contains an engraved portrait of Columbus beautifully executed4 in the line. Dr Barton spoke in high terms of the print & presumed it bore the stamp of unquestionable authority, as the work was undertaken at the instance of the King of Spain, and as an account of the print and painting, which he conceived favourable, was given by the Author of the book, which I now transcribe for you lest the work should not be in your possession. Several gentlemen enjoying a literary name with us attempted its translation, each differing from the other, and neither satisfying me. My object is, of course, to ascertain, positively, whether the painting from which the engraving is taken, bears the marks of genuine authenticity. I fear it does not, because from what I can gather from the account, the picture was in some degree effaced by time when it was presented to Antonio del Rincon,* who, at the suggestions of Columbus[’s] son Fernando supplied the defects and made such corrections and alterations, as he conceived would exhibit the best resemblance of his father, and in this state it went to the engravers’ hands.

I shall trouble you no further, but come immediately to the original account of the picture.

“Este primer tomo lleva al principio el retrato del descubridor, dibujado y gravado con esmero. Entre muchos quadros y estampas que se venden falsamente por tales retratos, solo uno he visto que pueda serlo, y es el que se conserva en la casa del excelentisimo señor duque de Berwick y Liria, descendiente de nuestro héroe: figura del natural pintada al parecer en el siglo pasado por un mediano copiante, pero en que aparecen indicios de la mano de Antonio del Rincon, pintor célebre de los reyes católicos. Las señas dadas por Fernando Colón del rostro de su padre han servido para elegir la efigie mas semejante, y para enmendar los defectos que se advierten en algunas facciones, ó mal entendidas por el artífice, ó desfiguradas por las injurias del tiempo.”

At the bottom of the print is engraved Mariano Maella lo dibuxó. Pilkington gives no account of him. The name of the engraver is Fernando Selma.

I beg of you sir, to have the goodness to examine this subject & compare the supposed genuineness of this portrait with that in De Bry’s work, which, I strongly suspect, from De Bry’s account of it, is of more satisfactory origin. If this should be the case, can I take the liberty of requesting the favour of you to take it from the work & forward it to me. I am certain that no injury can arise to that nor the one of Americus Vespusius, and when Mr Fairman & Mr Kearny, who are to engrave them in the line, have done with them, they shall be promptly sent to you to be replaced in the works from which they came.

The portrait of Columbus of which I have been speaking, has a youthful appearance, a smooth & beautiful face, & I fear does not exhibit those characteristic marks of age & expression which I presume Columbus himself possessed, nor, probably, of that given in De Bry’s work.

I am compelled to be particular, because my work ought to bear a [g]enerally approved5 stamp of authenticity.

Hoping to receive as early a reply as you can make it convenient, I remain with the highest respect & esteem,

Dear sir, your obedt humb servt

Joseph Delaplaine

P.S. If I should be favoured with the portrait of Columbus contained in De Bry’s work & it should be preferred,6 I shall mention, of course, in the copy, that it was derived from your kindness.

RC (DLC); edge trimmed; at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 26 Aug. 1814 and so recorded in SJL.

By one of our best engravers, Delaplaine meant Gideon Fairman. TJ provided a translation of the original account of the picture in his 28 Aug. 1814 response to Delaplaine. lo dibuxó: “drew it.”

1TJ wrote perpendicularly in the left-hand margin of the page containing this paragraph: “Elógio d’Amerigo Vespucci che ha riportato il premio dalla nobile accademia Etrusca di Cortona nel dì 15. d’ottobre dell’ anno 1788 del P. Stanislao Canovai della scuole pie publico professore di fisica-matematica, in Firenze 1788. nella stamp. di Pietro Allegrini.” For his use of this text, see TJ to Delaplaine, 28 Aug. 1814.

2Manuscript: “belive.”

3Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

4Word interlined in place of “engraved.”

5Preceding two words added in margin.

6Preceding five words interlined.

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

* *He spells his name Stu, I am informed, and not Stew

*  *According to Pilkington in his Dictionary of Painters, he was born in 1446 and died in 1500, of Guadalaxara, is named among the first reformers of Spanish art. He travelled to Rome, and made himself master of the elements which began to distinguish that school. At his return his success was equal to hi[s] endeavours; he was made painter to the court, chamberlain & Knight of St Jago, by Ferdinand the catholic. Of his works the greater part perished, and what remains is retouched. He left a son, Fendando, of some, though inferior name.

  †or they were made by some other painter. Or perhaps the translation ought to be, that this picture was painted after the manner of del Rincon originally, & afterwards altered by another.

Index Entries

  • Americae Pars Quinta, part five of The Great or American Voyages, Parts I to XI, in Latin (T. de Bry) search
  • Barton, Benjamin Smith; and J. Delaplaine’s Repository search
  • Berwick, Duke of; and portrait of C. Columbus search
  • Bry, Theodor de; Americae Pars Quinta, part five of The Great or American Voyages, Parts I to XI, in Latin search
  • Canovai, Stanislao; Elogio d’Amerigo Vespucci search
  • Columbus, Christopher; and portrait for J. Delaplaine’s Repository search
  • Columbus, Ferdinand; son of C. Columbus search
  • Delaplaine, Joseph; and portraits of TJ by G. Stuart search
  • Delaplaine, Joseph; Delaplaine’s Repository search
  • Delaplaine, Joseph; letters from search
  • Elogio d’Amerigo Vespucci (S. Canovai) search
  • Fairman, Gideon; engraver search
  • Ferdinand II, king of Aragon and Castile; and C. Columbus search
  • Historia del Nuevo-Mundo (Muñoz) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Portraits; G. Stuart’s paintings search
  • Kearney, Francis; engraver search
  • Maella, Mariano Salvador; painter search
  • Muñoz, Don Juan Bautista; Historia del Nuevo-Mundo search
  • Pilkington, Matthew; dictionary of painters by search
  • Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished Americans (J. Delaplaine) search
  • Rincón, Antonio del; and portrait of C. Columbus search
  • Rincón, Fernando search
  • Selma, Fernando; engraver search
  • Stuart, Gilbert; portraits of TJ by search
  • Vespucci, Amerigo (Americus Vespucius); portrait of search