Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Biography of a Bibliophile and Owner of a 1605 Quijote: Oscar Benjamin Cintas Y Rodriguez (1887-1957)

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Biography of a Bibliophile and Owner of a 1605 Quijote: Oscar Benjamin Cintas Y Rodriguez (1887-1957)

Article excerpt

For ALAN BENTON, sage, scholar, friend, and warrior

Y fueron siempre mis lujos invertir en buenos cuadros lo que otros derrochaban en yates, mesas de juego o queridas. Eso es todo.


THE PURPOSE OF THIS study is to analyze the personality and motivations of this Cuban philanthropist, diplomat, bibliophile, art collector, and businessman. (1) I want to determine what attracted Mr. Cintas so irresistibly to his beloved books--and especially the 1605 Quijote--and art. This study will also show that quixotic idealism and benevolence fueled his desire to collect books and art primarily for the well being of the Cuban people. A collector's paintings and books allow the scholar to peer into that collector's heart and soul.

I hope to explain why, and sometimes how, Mr. Cintas acquired the specific books, manuscripts, paintings, and other art objects that constituted his world-renowned collections. The reader can readily find some of the answer to this question in the intriguing words of this study's epigraph.

A while ago when I was studying Cervantes's Don Quijote, Jill Gage a Newberry Library reference librarian suggested that I might like to see the Newberry's first edition of that novel (1605-1615).


When I opened the cover of the first volume, I saw the bookplates of the three previous owners of this Newberry copy of Don Quijote: Henry Labouchere, Oscar Benjamin Cintas of Havana, Cuba, and Louis H. Silver. The fact that a Cuban had owned such a rare bibliographic treasure greatly piqued my curiosity. (2) And that is the genesis of this study.


FAMILY HISTORY, SAGUA LA GRANDE, AND GREAT BRITAIN Because Mr. Cintas's artistic and intellectual development are so closely associated with his family and with his native city of Sagua la Grande, a family biography and city description are very much in order.

Mr. Cintas also bought the second edition of Barcelona of 1608 as well as the 1617 one from Barcelona both of which are also part of the Newberry Library collection. He also had several other early editions of Don Quijote (O'Reilly items 79-82)

In 1887 Oscar Benjamin Cintas y Rodriguez was unto the manor born in the Cuban provincial town of Sagua la Grande (3) although his family's economic situation had already begun to diminish.

His family had him baptized in the town's Parish Church. (4) It was in this large and beautiful church that a priest had baptized each Cintas family child for decades. On such occasions Mr. Cintas's maternal grandfather, Jose Rodriguez Lopez ([dagger]- 1886) (5) used to take from his own home art gallery a painting of the Virgin by Murillo. He used to place it on the altar as a witness to the ceremony with the hope that the Virgin would protect these children. According to Portela this painting by Murillo is different from the one that graced Mr. Cintas's Havana mansion (Telephone conversation, March 8, 2008).


According to Ramos, in this church there also hung a canvas by the Belgian painter Jos. Correns called, " The Savior's Baptism" (Ramos [1962] 30-31). Ramos confirms that the donor was a Dutchman called Juan Van der Kieft who had married into a prominent Sagua family (Ramos ibid., 33 note 2).

Thus we could say without fear of contradiction that within a week or so of his birth, Mr. Cintas received his first introduction to great art thanks to his grandfather and to Mr. Van der Kieft. For Mr. Cintas this tradition helped to create and to maintain an environment well-disposed to art, one that would nurture him throughout his life (Portela telephone conversation, September 30, 2000). (6) Even though his grandfather had died the year before Mr. Cintas was born, his artistic tradition remained a part of Mr. Cintas's tradition for his entire life. In fact, according to Portela, Mr. …

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