José Celestino Mutis

José Celestino Mutis, born April 6, 1732 in Cadiz, Spain, was a Spanish priest, physician, botanist and mathematician. In 1760, he travelled to the New Kingdom of Granada (now Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama and Guyana) as physician to Viceroy Pedro Mesía de la Cerda. Passionate about scientific research, especially botany, he became director of the Royal Botanical Expedition to the New Kingdom of Granada from 1783 until his death. It was one of the most important scientific expeditions of the 18th century, launched in 1783 by order of Viceroy Antonio de Caballero y Góngora and approved by a Royal Cedula. His aim was to explore and document the flora of the New Kingdom of Granada. This major undertaking lasted 25 years and resulted in a herbarium containing over 24,000 specimens and numerous illustrations of local flora and fauna.

The expedition began in Mesa de Juan Díaz, some 62 kilometers southwest of Bogotá. There, the Mutis team carried out several explorations to collect plant specimens and study local biodiversity. From 1783 to 1790, the expedition settled in Mariquita, a region particularly rich in flora and fauna. Here, the team studied various plants of economic and medicinal interest, such as wild cinnamon, Bogotá tea and quinine, not to mention mining resources. During this period, Mutis organized a large painting workshop with 8 artists, who produced 1,200 prints, 600 of them in color. From 1790 to 1816, the expedition moved to Santa Fe (now Bogotá), where the team continued to produce a large number of drawings and illustrations of plants. In 1816, the fruits of this expedition were sent to Madrid in 105 crates. After being examined by Ferdinand VII, it was sent to the Cabinet of Natural History (minerals and animals) and to the Royal Botanical Garden (plants and manuscripts).

Mutis was particularly interested in the therapeutic properties of cinchona bark, used against malaria. He published works detailing the botanical, agricultural and medical aspects of the plant, and succeeded in cultivating it for the first time in New Granada. His work on cinchona was posthumous, with works such as "Arcano de la Quina" and "Historia de los Árboles de la Quina".

En plus de ses recherches botaniques, Mutis modernisa l'enseignement universitaire et scientifique en Nouvelle-Grenade, notamment en introduisant les travaux de Newton et l'astronomie héliocentrique et en inaugurant la chaire de mathématiques et de physique du Colegio del Rosario. Il fonda l'observatoire astronomique de Bogotá, le plus ancien des Amériques, et fut nommé astronome par le roi Carlos III d'Espagne. Mutis mourut le 11 septembre 1808, laissant un héritage considérable en matière de botanique et d'éducation scientifique en Amérique du Sud.