Biography of José Celestino Mutis (1732-1808)

Scientist and Spanish ecclesiastic, born in Cádiz (Spain) April 6, 1732 and died in Santafé de Bogotá (Colombia), September 11, 1808.

José Celestino Mutis.

Although data are not known about his childhood, is known Mutis began his medical studies in the College of surgery in Cádiz - where he had a first approach to modern medicine-, and that he ended his career at the University of Seville, at the time doing studies of Botany, along with Miguel Barnardes, at the Migas Calientes botanical gardens. For four years he served his profession in Cadiz's marine Hospital, where he became interested in astronomy.

Between 1757 and 1760, he worked as Deputy to the Chair of anatomy at the General Hospital in Madrid. He left Cádiz heading to America in 1760, to practice as a doctor of the viceroy of the new Kingdom of Granada. It came to Santafé de Bogotá the following year where he won the Chair of mathematics at the Colegio Rosario in Bogota, being the first teacher that explained the Newtonian physics and the heliocentric theory of Copernicus.

In 1764 he sent a copy of Loja quina Linnaeus, initiating, not only a correspondence that would last until the death of the latter in 1778, but also Mutis to enter the international communication of the botanical Linnean network. On the other hand, in a memorial led Carlos III in 1764, Linnaean stated and emphasized that it only sought to continue the work of Pehr Löfling, describing the flora of the new world. Mutis had correspondence with several disciples of Linnaeus, including Clas Alströmer (whom he had met in Madrid), Peter Jonas Bergius and Carl Peter Thunberg. Mutis described the system Linnaean as "an alphabet to reduce the plants to their respective orders" he said, "but then I find my difficulties to reduce gender." When he described a few copies of the water Liana noted: "Register 'Plant system' and the 'genres', and am very diverse thing.". To strictly follow the Linnean methodology, indications were so confusing that it was forced to make an amendment: "here it can be inferred that this is a very different sort, or that the generic character should be settled" (diary, II, 607). Loyal and critical at a time with the methods of the master, Mutis remained within the Linnaean circle throughout his career as a botanist.

In 1772, Mutis was ecclesiastical, but without ever leaving the cultivation of the sciences. Between 1766 and 1770 he was appointed to the Real de Minas de Montuosa (near Pamplona), where applied their critical faculties to the production of silver, and from 1777 to 1782 was in the mines of Toad (Ibague). In Santafe de Bogota, he taught mathematics and astronomy and contributed to the modernization of the mining in the Viceroyalty, both in aspects of production with new techniques of exploitation, as in the of industrialization, with novel forms of mining companies, so he sent to Clemente Ruiz to Sweden to learn the modern Foundry processes.

In 1782 he decided to organize an expedition of Botany and Eloy Valenzuela, Francisco Javier Matís and Salvador curl, they studied the flora of the new world. Of these investigations, Mutis, published studies on the genus Cinchona, where grouped four species with medicinal value and three non-medicinal, belonging to this genre, hitherto considered all Cinchona species as a single. You tried to define taxonomic characteristics of the quina, essential medicines, so that laymen could distinguish different species.

In the final decade of the century, Mutis was occupied in the publication of studies on the genus Cinchona, participating in a bitter controversy with José Pavón and Hipólito Ruiz colleagues about the importance of the machine and the priority of its discovery. Thinking that the general confusion about the machine was that the Europeans considered all Cinchona species as if they were a single, Mutis grouped varieties in four species with medicinal value and three non-medicinal, owned all of them to the single genus Cinchona. Quina as drug demand was so great that Mutis should work with great boldness to try to define the taxonomic characteristics of the genre with sufficient clarity so that laymen could distinguish different species. Its three non-medicinal species are today incorporated in other genres; the medicinal, two are considered as Cinchona but the other two are now Ladembergia.

During this same period, Mutis conducted a vigorous campaign in favour of Edward Jennervaccinating method, relying on the Government to finance a program of immunization. Mutis had witnessed the resistance of official medical sectors of Madrid to inoculation in 1759 and hoped the viceroy not to commit the same mistake, with unfortunate consequences for the people. It has been criticized frequently Mutis by the dispersion of interest in over fields of knowledge. Alexander von Humboldt praised his botanical work, but criticized his remarks barometric, always wrong for having used an inappropriate instrument.

The Spanish Government appointed him director of the Scientific Commission for the study of the Equatorial flora. In 1783, he initiated and directed, for twenty-five years, the Royal Botanical expedition. He toured various regions of the country and brought a large amount of material for the study of the flora.Mutis was a tireless researcher of flora in America, and his work, though not known as a whole, has been of great benefit to meet essential study elements about the richness and variety of plants existing in the new world. Finally, it is important to highlight the contribution by Mutis to the development of the study of medicine, as he incorporated the study of Anatomy through dissection, and between 1802 and 1804, collaborated in the writing and organization of the curriculum of the newly founded Faculty of the Rosary. It also supported and promoted the societies of friends of the country and astronomy; Thanks to Mutis was built the Astronomical Observatory of Santafe de Bogota, still existing. The first meeting of the society took place in his house, in 1801.

When death struck him, their documents were cluttered, unlabeled drawings and the task of putting in order the chaos was entrusted to the Mutis, his nephew Sinforoso heir. In addition to the immense production of Flora, now in course of publication, the greatest merit of Mutis consisted of creating a genuine scientific school, which, if convulsions of independence had not interrupted its normal development, would have been able to reach really be singular and independent. In part, this was due to Mutis ability to obtain media funding and equipping the expedition. On the other hand, Humbodt said Mutis botanical library was the best he had seen, with the exception of Joseph Banks in London. The second key to his success was that he was arbiter of modern science in New Granada, advantageously defending his copernicanism against a complaint filed with the Dominicans in 1774. Students involved virtually every notable person in the struggle for independence and his closest collaborators and disciples in the expedition - Sinforoso Mutis, Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Francisco Antonio Zea, Francisco José de Caldas and José Joaquín Camacho - were involved in the conspiracy of 1794, in the revolution of 1810, or both.

His monumental work entitled Santafé Flora from Bogota or New Granada, materials are still unpublished, archived at the Botanical Garden of Madrid. It is a work of great dimensions and enormous scientific value, with thousands of drawings of plants not yet recognized. Other works of his are: Journal of observations (1791), correspondence between Linnaeus and other naturalist, the arcane of the quina (1793), the work in which Mutis is shown as the first scholar to bottom of the medicinal virtues of this plant.



The Flora of the Royal expedition Botany of the new Kingdom of Granada, 51 projected vols., Madrid, Hispanic culture, 1954-, was also published under the joint auspices of the Governments of Colombia and Spain.

They are basic sources of the scientific trajectory of Mutis the daily observations of José Celestino Mutis (1760-1790), ed. dir. by Guillermo Hernández de Alba, 2 vols., Bogotá, Minerva, 1957-1958; and the Sage naturalist don José Celestino Mutis, ed. dir. epistolary file by Guillermo Hernández de Alba, 4 vols., Bogotá, Kelly, 1968-1975.

On the genus Cinchona, the refers to the "actual project the tobacconist of Cinchona and their establishments (1787)", machines of the Royal Botanical expedition, of the Nuevo Reino de Granada, Madrid, Hispanic culture, 1957 (Flora, vol. 44), ed. dir. by Enrique Pérez Arbeláez and Fernando Fernández de Soto Morales, pages 44-64.

They also highlight trip to Santa Fe. [Issue of] Cold Marcelo-(Madrid: Historia 16, 1990); and botanical expedition of José Celestino Mutis to new Kingdom of Granada and unpublished memoirs. [Issue of] Diego Mendoza-(Madrid: IMP.) V. Suárez, 1909).


GREDILLA, Federico A., biography of José Celestino Mutis. Madrid: Typographic establishment of Fortanet, 1911. Rééd.: Complement to the extensive history of Colombia. Bogota: Colombian Academy of history, Plaza & Janés, 1982. (Basic biography)ARVELÁEZ PÉREZ, Enrique: José Celestino Mutis and the Real expedition Botany of the Nuevo Reino de Granada, Bogotá, Autares, 1967. (Of greater wealth in terms of cultural context).DUGAND, Armando: "Systematics of the flora of Mutis" at conferences about the botanical expedition, Kelly, 1958, pp. 75-102 (interesting for a critical evaluation).COLMEIRO, M: the Botany and the botanical of the Hispano-lusitana Peninsula. Bibliographic and biographical studies. Madrid: M. Rivadeneyra, 1858, pp. 171-172.mejia Duke, Jaime: 'Books purchased by Mutis' in Bolívar (Bogotá), 10 (1957), 521-524. (Reference library).