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Stories in Red and Black

Stories in Red and Black
Pictorial Histories of the Aztecs and Mixtecs

The first comprehensive analysis of the Mexican painted history as an intellectual, documentary, and pictorial genre.

February 2000
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312 pages | 8.5 x 11 | 157 b&w figures |

The Aztecs and Mixtecs of ancient Mexico recorded their histories pictorially in images painted on hide, paper, and cloth. The tradition of painting history continued even after the Spanish Conquest, as the Spaniards accepted the pictorial histories as valid records of the past. Five Pre-Columbian and some 150 early colonial painted histories survive today.

This copiously illustrated book offers the first comprehensive analysis of the Mexican painted history as an intellectual, documentary, and pictorial genre. Elizabeth Hill Boone explores how the Mexican historians conceptualized and painted their past and introduces the major pictorial records: the Aztec annals and cartographic histories and the Mixtec screenfolds and lienzos.

Boone focuses her analysis on the kinds of stories told in the histories and on how the manuscripts work pictorially to encode, organize, and preserve these narratives. This twofold investigation broadens our understanding of how preconquest Mexicans used pictographic history for political and social ends. It also demonstrates how graphic writing systems created a broadly understood visual "language" that communicated effectively across ethnic and linguistic boundaries.


Arvey Prize
Association for Latin American Art

Honorable Mention, George Wittenborn Memorial Book Award
Art Libraries Society of North AmericaALAA Book Award Best Scholarly Book on Latin American ArtAssociation for Latin American Art

  • Preface
  • 1. Configuring the Past
  • 2. History and Historians
  • 3. Writing in Images
  • 4. Structures of History
  • 5. Mixtec Genealogical Histories
  • 6. Lienzos and Tiras from Oaxaca and Southern Puebla
  • 7. Stories of Migration, Conquest, and Consolidation in the Central Valleys
  • 8. Aztec Altepetl Annals
  • 9. Histories with a Purpose
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

A recipient of Mexico's Order of the Aztec Eagle, Elizabeth Hill Boone holds the Martha and Donald Robertson Chair in Latin American Art at Tulane University.


“Elizabeth Boone has written a book that is remarkable in many ways, a work that historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, and art historians will realize they have been in need of once they have delved into it. In an unparalleled effort, she takes the reader through dozens of central Mexican and Oaxacan manuscripts, broadly speaking, ‘the pictorial histories of the Aztecs and Mixtecs,’ according to her subtitle; most of them were made just before the Spanish invasion of Mexico in 1519, or in the first few generations after. At the end, the reader not only knows what is in any given manuscript, according to Boone’s reading, but also how to find one’s own way through a manuscript.”
Hispanic American Historical Review

“Professor Boone has spent the better part of the last two decades at the forefront of our discipline. I am delighted to report that this book lives up to her high reputation and even surpasses it. . . . [It] is a tour de force.”
Stephen D. Houston, author of Hieroglyphs and History at Dos Pilas: Dynastic Politics of the Classic Maya


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca
UPCC/Project Muse