MEXICO -- An illuminated document (lienzo) on amate (fig-tree bark paper) backed with cotton.
Single sheet, 103 x 68cm (ca. 2mm thick), in ink and colours, highlighted in gold, on amate paper. The document bordered by twenty-four place glyphs framing the central large coat of arms of the viceroy Sotomayor, with supporters to each side, and other elements drawn below, including four throned figures around an area of water in which are depicted a seated male and female couple with a diving female figure within a disc surrounded by fish, with a cactus rising from the water to link it to the arms above; between the pairs of throned figures are a water god and a scene of human sacrifice. (Some light wear, parts of margin lightly frayed, surface generally browned).
1.Don Garcia Sarmiento de Sotomayor, conde de Salvatierra, viceroy of New Spain from 1642 to 1649 (arms on map)
2.Arms of Spain and Mexico, dated 1674-1675 (stamped official attestation, damaged, on reverse)
3.General Miguel Miramon (1832-1867), companion of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, executed with him in 1867 at Queretaro; by descent.
A DOCUMENT OF EXCEPTIONAL IMPORTANCE, UNIQUE BOTH IN COMPOSITION AND SIZE, and remarkable for its use of traditional Mesoamerican iconography at so late a date after the Conquest. The document may have been commissioned by the viceroy Sotomayor as a representation of his domination over New Spain; alternatively, the native nobility, represented by the four seated figures, may have had it made to assert their regional dominance and their high place in the governing hierarchy under Spanish rule (cf the Relaciones Geograficas). The different gestures of the four figures serve to identify them as specific individuals. The place glyphs, which are of Mixtec style, denote the boundaries of a territory (perhaps New Spain). Among them are the 'place of Tlaloc' (the rain god), the 'split-mountain place', the 'sun-mountain place' and the 'sun-water place', as well as directional markers. While similar to glyphs in well-known documents such as the Codices Vindobonensis and Nuttall, they are not identical. The large central glyph, below the arms, may represent Tenochtitlan, later Mexico City, traditionally represented by an eagle perching on a stone cactus (te-noch-): in this case the eagle is that of Spain, and the feather-like decorations to the collar of the Golden Fleece may recall the feathers of which the eagle's nest was built. The seated couple below are ancestor figures, while the 'diving woman' in the sun disc recalls the Aztec goddess Coyolxaqui. The scene of human sacrifice is not unusual: it also appears in Codex Nuttall and in Codex Mendoza (prepared for the first viceroy of New Spain). The four seated figures are Aztec in proportion and style, their thrones similar to those in the Borgia Codex (the front-turned face of one figure, however, is clearly due to European influence). The mix of styles in this document is typical of later post-Conquest painted books: the Borgia Codex is of a similar eclectic style. While the colour (with the exception of the gold) is typical of Mixtec codices, the proportions of the figures, and their movements, are closer to Aztec painting. (It is of interest to note that Mixtecs were employed as painters by the Aztecs). The artist, one may conjecture, was probably a Mixtec working in Mexico City. The Conquistadors' wholesale burning of Mexican books (and frequently of their owners) was an attempt to destroy a culture and its historical memory. The production of a document like this, incorporating both native and European iconography, is a remarkable testimony to the survival and adaptation of Mexican culture under Spanish domination. .
Gordon Brotherston. Painted Books from Mexico. London:1995.
Ronald Spores. The Mixtecs in Ancient and Colonial Times. Oklahoma City:1984.
Donald Robertson. Mexican Manuscript Painting of the Early Colonial Period. The Metropolitan Schools. New Haven:1959.
We would like to express our thanks to Dr. Philip Stokes of Essex University for his help.