Hernández, Francisco

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Hernández, Francisco

(b. Montalban, near Toledo, Spain, 1517; d. Toledo, 1587)

natural history.

Hernández was physician to Philip II. He began practicing medicine at the hospital of the monastery of Guadalupe and botanized in Castile and Andalusia. By order of the king he went to Mexico, where he stayed from 1570 to 1577, studying the fauna and the flora. His series of journeys through all the territories of the viceroyalty has been reconstructed by Germán Somolinos. The development of his works is shown in the reports that he sent to Spain: in 1572 he had “drawn and painted as many as three books on rare plants... and almost two books on land animals and rare birds unknown to our hemisphere.” In 1576 there were sixteen books on plants, minerals, and animals which he planned to take back to Spain, leaving a copy of each in Mexico. His work was deposited in the library of the Escorial.

After Hernández’ death, Leonardo Recchi (Recho), a royal physician, made a summary that was published at Rome in 1628, at the expense of Prince Cesi, as Rerum... Novae Hispaniae thesaurus, seu plantanum, animalium, mineraliurn mexicanorum historia. Before this edition there had appeared in Mexico two abridged versions of Hernández’ work. One, written by Francisco Xiniénez (1615), was derived from Recho’s version (known before its printing) but introduced a great number of variations; it was entitled Quatro libros de la naturaleza y virtudes de las plantas y animales.... The other (1579), based on the copy kept in Mexico, was used by Agustin Farfán for his Tratado breve de medcina.... Finally, at Madrid in 1790 Casimiro Gómez Ortega published a group of Spanish manuscripts under the title Historia plantarum Novae Hispaniae. These publications, given the changes suffered by Hernández’ manuscripts, had, until the recent edition issued by the University of Mexico, both historical and scientific interest.

The data transmitted by Hernández are a source of information on some of the species of plants and animals, such as Canis caribeus, that became extinct after the discovery of America.


Hernández’ work has been brought together in the Obras completas, 4 vols. (Mexico City, 1959–1966). In vol. I, see Germán Somolinos d’Ardois, “Vida y obra de Francisco Hernández,” pp. 95–482. See also Agustin Farfán, Tratado breve de medicina...(Mexico City, 1579); and Francisco Ximénez, Quatro libros de la naturaleza y virtudes de las plannis y animates... (Mexico City, 1615).

Juan Vernet

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