MEXICO -- an illuminated document (lienzo) on amate (fig-tree bark paper) backed with cotton. [Mexico, 19th century]
1030 x 680mm. Single sheet, in ink and colours, highlighted in gold, amate paper. The document bordered by twenty-four place glyphs framing the central large coat of arms of Don Garcia Sarmiento de Sotomayor, conde de Salvatierra, (viceroy of New Spain from 1642-49), 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 heart excision. (Some light wear, parts of margin lightly frayed, surface generally browned). Provenance: General Miguel Miramon (1832-1867), companion of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, executed with him in 1867 at Queretaro; by descent.
A FASCINATING EXAMPLE OF THE ROMANTICISATION OF THE AZTEC EMPIRE IN 19TH-CENTURY MEXICO, this large and remarkable document appears to confirm the control of Don Garcia Sarmiento de Sotomayor, 19th viceroy of Mexico -- represented by his armorial bearings -- over the lands depicted in the surrounding glyphs. This form of document, a lienzo, was originally produced by native communities as titulos primordiales, communal documents portraying historical events and delineating territories. It is most unlikely that a noble Spaniard, such as the conde de Salvatierra, would have commissioned a land claim in the native manner. The document is rather an expression of the 19th-century revival of interest in the heritage and history of ancient and medieval Mexico that led to the reconstruction of indigenous works of art. Combining both native and European pictoral elements, the present document illustrates the way in which ancient methods were adopted by 19th-century artists to reproduce such manuscripts. It is not painted on cloth, the preferred medium for most colonial lienzos, but on the more archaic support of tree-bark paper, no doubt intended to evoke greater antiquity. This is enforced by the absence of any glossing inscriptions, the intended effect being to imply that it originated before knowledge of a written language.
The four figures seated on thrones represent Aztec lords, while the place glyphs are of Mixtec style. The anachronistic mix of styles and the inappropriate positioning of the figures show this to be an archaising invention. The borrowing of images from known Precolumbian and early Colonial manuscripts, including Codex Laud (Bodleian Library, Laud misc. 678) and the Codex Rios (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana), which were both published by Lord Kingsborough, Antiquities of Mexico, 1831-1848, suggests that the document was produced after this date.
Mexico's search to establish an individual identity at this date led to the production of many such artefacts (see, for example, José Obregón's 'Discovery of Pulque', 1869), and this manuscript is a remarkable example of this attempt to glorify native American ancestry and give it an added element of european legitimacy.