European Manuscripts Concerning Cochineal

Graphic Illustrations of Animals, 1850, Science Museum UK

Graphic Illustrations of Animals, published by Thomas Varty, printed by J. Graf and illustrated by Benjamin Waterhouse Wilkins dates to 1850 and is located at the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London. This publication illustrates the cultivation and dyeing process of cochineal and lac, and discusses the influence that cochineal production had on western Europe. It showcases a central image of leaves and a large cactus, the host plants for the dye producing insects, surrounded by nine smaller illustrations that display the different ways the dye is processed. While this manuscript does not use cochineal in the hand colored illustrations, it highlights how the Europeans capitalized on the use of these insects and the importance of the dye trade due to its high monetary and artistic value.


Treaty of Culture of the Nopal and the Education of the Cochineal in the French Colonies of America, 1787, The National Library of Israel

The Treaty of Culture of the Nopal and the Education of the Cochineal in the French Colonies of America, (National Library of Israel, Sidney Edelstein Collection) is based on  the preserved notes and diary entries of Nicolas Joseph Thiery de Menonville and published posthumously in 1787.  Although there are no traces of cochineal within this manuscript, it is of great importance to our project because it showcases Europe’s fascination with cochineal, and reveals how the insect was closely studied. At the height of cochineal’s popularity, Spain would not reveal the true origins of cochineal to avoid losing their control over the market. Menonville’s plan was to cultivate the prickly pear cactus, which would allow France to reap the monetary and artistic benefits of cochineal dye production.


Gomez de Cervantes’ Memorial and the Anonymous Pictorial Manuscript, 16th Century, The British Museum

The Gomez de Cervantes’ Memorial and the Anonymous Pictorial Manuscript is located at The British Museum. It was created by Gomez de Cervantes and dates to the 16th century. This manuscript was written on European paper and consists of 76 leaves with 13 illustration, 12 of which depict the cultivation of the prickly pear cactus. This manuscript does not contain cochineal, however it documents and showcases in both written and graphic terms Spain’s efforts to cultivate and monetize cochineal.