Archivo Nacional now has drafts of famous ‘Album de Figueroa’

hese most likely are politicians . . . . and the imperial Tómas Guardia and his throne.

The Archivo Nacional says it has received complete control over the existing notebooks of José María Figueroa Oreamuno, a chronicler of the lives and times of 19th century Costa Rica.

The Archivo Nacional already had “El Álbum de Figueroa,” a compilation of the author’s years of traveling and observing Costa Rican society. The new documents are five notebooks on which the album is believed to have been based. The Archivo called them drafts of the final book.

Figueroa in 2010 received belated recognition of his contributions to arts and letters. The Asamblea Legislativa named him a benemérito of the country, the nation’s highest honor.

Many consider him an ethnographer and cartographer because he
traveled into less-well-known areas of the country, such as
Talamanca, Térraba, Boruca and Guatuso in the middle of the 19th century and produced a number of maps, including one that was displayed in Spain to mark the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America.

Figueroa also was a caricaturist and wit. He once was brought into court on a pornography charge relating to his drawings.

His album is about 200 pages, and it was delicately restored by experts. He did not pull punches. Once he wrote of the relationship of a priest and a mistress. Figueroa, himself, never married but did father a daughter. He was from the highest level of Costa Rican society because his Spanish immigrant father married into the Oreamuno family. Figueroa was born in Alajuela in 1820 and died in 1900. So he was a witness to the highly serious politics of the mid 19th century when political opponents and even presidents were shot.

One of the Figueroa notebook covers

Edgardo Richards, writing for the Asociación Costarricense de Filosofía, said that Figueroa wrote and drew a lot of the political class, particularly under the administration of Gen. Tomás Guardia and of practices of the church hierarchy, the corruption, the press, the militarism, Masonry, gambling, alcoholism, and the customers and prejudices of the privileged classes. Figueroa was influenced by 18th century French philosophy.

The Archivo Nacional waged a battle to obtain the album of Figueroa and than it did so again to obtain the notebooks. The notebooks were found in 2007 in the personal library of former president Rafael Iglesias Castro.

The president’s granddaughter, Manuela Tattenbach Iglesias, offered the presidential documents to the Archivo Nacional. The Archivo and Ms. Tattenbach entered into an agreement in 2008, but when the material arrived at the Archivo, it was reported to be incomplete. There were no Figueroa notebooks.

What followed was a lengthy legal proceeding between the Archivo and the person who was by then the executor of Ms. Tattenbach’s estate. Last year, the Archivo obtained legal custody of the notebooks and eventually entered into an agreement for ownership.

Still missing is a notebook called the “Libro Violeta” and a large drawing of a woman. The Archivo still is seeking these. They were part of the works originally catalogued in 2007.

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