Distinguished and renowned Cadiz-born José Celestino Mutis y Bosio (1732-1808), priest, botanist, geographer, mathematician and doctor, carried out numerous studies of Botany in the New Kingdom of Granada, territory occupied today by Colombia.
As was usual at the time, after having studied medicine, Mutis trained in botany, a subject that becomes his passion. In 1760, he left Spain with the intention of writing a natural history of America, until he was appointed Director of the Botanical Expedition and focused on the flora of New Granada.
During this expedition, Mutis led his team of painters to produce the iconographic collection of the botanical expedition, the most exquisite, luxurious and abundant collection of botanical paintings known throughout the history of Spain and Colombia, which is preserved in the Royal Garden Botanical of Madrid. The work that is conserved consists of 5393 plates, a herbarium composed of approximately 20,000 smaller versions of a herbarium which contains a large number of botanical and personal manuscripts by Mutis.
It is also among the most outstanding and relevant initiators of European scientific knowledge in America. Spain had been left out of the scientific revolution in Europe, from the mid-sixteenth century until well into the seventeenth century, during the counter-reformation of Philip II. From 1680, the Novatores, the movement Mutis belonged to, pursued the task of restoring science in the Kingdom of Spain. Mutis aimed to disseminate and institutionalise the scientific trends from northern Europe in New Granada, training people in topics such as botany, medicine, physics and philosophy. He also promoted educational reforms and directed the Botanical Expedition of New Granada.
“¡Apartad los ojos de la España detenida y volvedlos hacia la Europa del Norte! ….No hagan en vuestros ánimos impresión alguna los motivos del temeroso procedimiento de España en las ciencias naturales cuyo atraso lloran actualmente los españoles de juicio…”