In the Palace of Nezahualcoyotl: Painting Manuscripts, Writing the Pre-Hispanic Past in Early Colonial Period Tetzcoco, Mexico

In the Palace of Nezahualcoyotl: Painting Manuscripts, Writing the Pre-Hispanic Past in Early Colonial Period Tetzcoco, Mexico

In the Palace of Nezahualcoyotl: Painting Manuscripts, Writing the Pre-Hispanic Past in Early Colonial Period Tetzcoco, Mexico

In the Palace of Nezahualcoyotl: Painting Manuscripts, Writing the Pre-Hispanic Past in Early Colonial Period Tetzcoco, Mexico

Synopsis

Around 1542, descendants of the Aztec rulers of Mexico created accounts of the pre-Hispanic history of the city of Tetzcoco, Mexico, one of the imperial capitals of the Aztec Empire. Painted in iconic script ("picture writing"), the Codex Xolotl, the Quinatzin Map, and the Tlohtzin Mapappear to retain and emphasize both pre-Hispanic content and also pre-Hispanic form, despite being produced almost a generation after the Aztecs surrendered to Hernán Cortés in 1521. Yet, as this pioneering study makes plain, the reality is far more complex.

Eduardo de J. Douglas offers a detailed critical analysis and historical contextualization of the manuscripts to argue that colonial economic, political, and social concerns affected both the content of the three Tetzcocan pictorial histories and their archaizing pictorial form. As documents composed by indigenous people to assert their standing as legitimate heirs of the Aztec rulers as well as loyal subjects of the Spanish Crown and good Catholics, the Tetzcocan manuscripts qualify as subtle yet shrewd negotiations between indigenous and Spanish systems of signification and between indigenous and Spanish concepts of real property and political rights. By reading the Tetzcocan manuscripts as calculated responses to the changes and challenges posed by Spanish colonization and Christian evangelization, Douglas's study significantly contributes to and expands upon the scholarship on central Mexican manuscript painting and recent critical investigations of art and political ideology in colonial Latin America.

Excerpt

D[on] M[art]yn Enríquez. I make it known to you, Juan Gutiérrez de
Liébana, corregidor [magistrate] of the pu[eblo] of Tepeapulco, that don
Fran[cisco] Pimentel, the son of don Hernando Pimentel, cacique [indig
enous lord] of the city of Tezcuco, has reported to me that, being the son
of a father [made] a knight by the most illustrious Viceroy don Luis de
Velasco in a public ceremony, by grant of His Majesty, as it is known,
he [don Francisco] as his legitimate son, enjoys the continuance of
such privilege. Carrying a sword by reason of his honor, [when] passing
through said pueblo you [Juan Gutiérrez de Liébana] took it from him,
because of which [act] he [don Francisco] received offense, as his quality
[status] will be known, and he requested of me that I command you to
return it to him and, lest another judge ignorant of the same [fact] take it
from him, that I declare that he has the right to carry it
.

In 1575, in New Spain, the Spanish colony founded in 1521 in central Mexico after Hernán Cortés defeated the last independent rulers of the Aztec Empire, don Francisco Pimentel knew and defended his rights and privileges. As a scion of one of pre-Hispanic Mexico’s most illustrious aristocratic families, the ruling dynasty of Tetzcoco, don Francisco, a fullblooded Indian, understood that he had the freedom to dress, to carry arms, and to ride a horse like a Spaniard: the freedom, essentially, to be a Spaniard.

An “Indian, noble and ladino [Hispanized], and fluent in [the] Castilian language,” don Francisco was the product of the “mixed culture” of indigenous aristocrats in mid-sixteenth-century New Spain, a culture shaped by men and women such as his own father, don Hernando Pimentel Nezahualcoyotzin. A grandson of Nezahualpilli (1464/1465– 1515), the last ruler of Tetzcoco to reign entirely in the pre-Hispanic period, don Hernando had, from 1544, corresponded in Spanish with Charles V and Philip II to petition for the return of patrimonial lands, and, in 1554, he had even requested permission to travel to Spain in order to argue his case in person. Although Charles V did not permit . . .

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