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In the Palace of Nezahualcoyotl

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

A detailed critical analysis and historical contextualization of three Aztec pictorial histories.

Series: William and Bettye Nowlin Endowment

April 2010
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288 pages | 7 x 10 | 53 B&W photos, 1 map, 3 tables, 8 color illus. in 8-page section |

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 Map appear 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.


Association for Latin American Art Book AwardAssociation for Latin American Art

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. Mixed Forms, Mixed Messages: The Codex Xolotl, the Quinatzin Map, and the Tlohtzin Map
  • 2. Cemanahuactli Imachiyo, "The World, Its Model"
  • 3. Our Kin, Our Blood
  • 4. Telling Stories
  • Conclusion: In the Palace of Nezahualcoyotl
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Eduardo de J. Douglas is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


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 [indigenous 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 full-blooded 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 him to cross the Ocean Sea, the king had three years earlier granted don Hernando and the city of Tetzcoco a coat of arms (Fig. I.1), and he commanded that the rights and privileges of Nezahualpilli's descendants—the very ones asserted by don Hernando's son don Francisco in 1575—be respected.


Don Hernando's arms were based on those of the Counts-Dukes of Benavente in Spain, who were of the Pimentel family, after and in honor of whom the indigenous Pimentels of Tetzcoco were named. In the rhetoric of heraldry, the coat of arms orders indigenous symbols (signs of "Indianness")—ethnic and toponymic qualifiers, pictorial metaphors for war, eagles, a coyote, feathered warrior outfits and shields, war clubs with obsidian blades, the decapitated heads of enemy warriors, and so forth—according to a European visual syntax. The aristocratic conceit, like the names of men such as don Hernando Pimentel Nezahualcoyotzin, indexes social status in the colonial present to the pre-Hispanic past, the knowledge of which don Hernando and his ancestors had preserved in written form.


From the time of Christopher Columbus's first voyage, Europeans described the "New" World to the Old World. Between 1492, the date of Columbus's first voyage, and 1519, the year in which Hernán Cortés and his men landed in what is today Mexico, the Spaniards confronted and wrote about peoples "without history." Defined by European perceptions, these first "Indians" became for European readers the figures they encountered in Spanish texts: savages fit only for manual labor, not, like don Hernando and don Francisco Pimentel, nobles accorded rights and privileges. Once Cortés and his men came into contact with the peoples of central Mexico, who could and did write, the new arrivals no longer held the monopoly on literacy, history, or civilization.


The Spanish Franciscan missionary in New Spain, Fray Toribio de Benavente (circa 1490-1569), known as Motolinía, explains in the "Epistola proemial" (Prefatory Letter) to his Memoriales (Notes) of circa 1536-1543: "There were among the natives [of central Mexico] five [types of] books, as I said, of figures and characters: the first spoke about the years and the [past] epochs; the second, of the days and feasts that they had throughout the year; the third spoke about dreams and auguries, tricks and vanities in which they believed; the fourth was of baptism and the names that they gave to children; and the fifth is of rites, ceremonies, and auguries that they had in marriage."


In the Late Postclassic Period (circa 1200-1519 CE), in and around the Valley of Mexico (Map I.1), the heartland of the Aztec Empire and, after 1521, of New Spain, books "of figures and characters" recorded and sustained cosmic, divine, and human order among speakers of Nahuatl, the Aztec language, and their neighbors. Reading and writing were exclusively within the purview of the interrelated political and religious elites of the numerous ethnic polities, or, as they were known in Nahuatl, altepemeh (literally, "water-mountains," singular altepetl). In state-sponsored schools, noble and gifted children destined for the priesthood or high administrative office learned to read and write an iconic (image) script, which modern scholars have often characterized as "picture writing." A pictorial element in central Mexican iconic script could depict a thing itself (a flower representing a flower), or serve as an ideograph (a flower signifying a concept, idea, or quality related to a flower, for example, fragrance) or as a phonetic element (flower, xochitl in Nahuatl, could communicate the sound "xoch" rather than either a flower or a concept related to it). Through images, scribes conveyed a wide range of information. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century accounts from New Spain such as Motolinía's tell us that pre-Hispanic rulers and priests commissioned and used iconic-script genealogies, histories, and ritual manuscripts—calendars, cosmogonies, and divinatory manuals. Maps, economic records, and transcripts of legal proceedings, too, were part of the pre-Hispanic documentary and scribal repertories.


Many Spaniards disparaged central Mexican iconic script, which they called pinturas (paintings), but the colonial authorities and some Christian missionaries recognized it as a form of objective record keeping:


The one [type of book], namely, that concerning the years and the [past] epochs, this one, the first [type], one can believe, because in truth although [they were] barbarians and without letters, they had much order and custom of counting/recounting these same epochs and years, feasts and days . . . In this same way, they wrote and painted the histories of war, of the succession of the principal lords, of storms and pestilence, in what epoch and [under which] lord they happened, and all those who first subjugated this land and ruled it until the Spaniards arrived. All this they had written in characters and figures.


The Crown's and the Church's need for information inspired their representatives in New Spain to seek out paintings. The initial impetus came from the Crown, which sought accounts of pre-Conquest economic, political, and social organization, especially those concerning landholding, slavery, and tribute. Such knowledge permitted the colonial administration to maintain the demands placed on the indigenous masses at pre-Hispanic levels, in theory if not always in practice, and thereby to minimize the risks of rebellion against Spanish authority. The Church and its missionaries, above all the Franciscans, collected information on pre-Hispanic history, religion, and ritual in order to police the new converts, and in this way to eradicate what they deemed to be paganism and idolatry.


Members of central Mexico's indigenous elites transcribed or translated the extant pre-Hispanic paintings for the agents of the Spanish Crown and the Catholic Church. Native aristocrats and painters crafted new iconic-script texts, too: during the military phase of the Conquest in central Mexico, the Spaniards and their allies had destroyed archives in many polities, and the Church's less-enlightened emissaries later burned much of what had been spared. In order to preserve knowledge of the pre-Hispanic past within their families and communities, these lords and painters commissioned and produced iconic-script documents, especially dynastic genealogies, histories, and maps, for themselves as well as for the Spaniards.


In central Mexico, in the Early Colonial Period (roughly from 1521 to 1600), scions of pre-Hispanic ruling houses—men such as don Hernando Pimentel and his son don Francisco of Tetzcoco—initially served as middlemen between the Spanish colonial state and the indios, or Indians whose labor and tribute sustained it and whose ancestors' labor and tribute had sustained their ancestors. To justify this and other privileges, indigenous lords, or señores, as the Spaniards often called them, were careful to make their royal blood visible, in part by means of iconic-script manuscripts: "Confronted with . . . difficulties and not without clearsightedness, the nobles resigned themselves to accept Christianity and the colonial domination. More or less sincerely converted, they chose the way of accommodation, and were at pains to preserve the signs of their origins, the 'paintings' of history and genealogy that legitimized their power."


These documents enjoyed a quasi-legal status in colonial New Spain, and in theory if not always in practice, they served as bulwarks against Spanish—and even native—encroachment on lands, tribute income, and rights. As Elizabeth Hill Boone concludes, "[t]hese are the documents that addressed the realms of Nahua life where the most was at stake . . . the realms of titles and privilege (of continued nobility and status), of land, of goods, and of rights." Keen collectors and patrons of the "books . . . of figures and characters," indigenous lords and municipalities at first held onto pre-Hispanic originals, but later, when and as necessary, they commissioned bowdlerized copies, and at times fanciful adaptations, of the dynastic genealogies, civic histories, property maps, and tribute registers. These iconic-script documents preserved not only the "memory of the greatness and exploits of the ancient kings and lords" but also the income, lands, rights, and status of their descendants.


Although the secular and the religious formed part of a coherent whole, and augury and liturgy were not separate from history, one can loosely divide central Mexican iconic-script manuscripts into two groups: the ritual, and the historical or mundane. After 1521 Christian missionaries from Europe and Spanish administrators collected originals and requested copies of every type of pre-Hispanic iconic-script manuscript, at least until 1577, when Philip II forbade them to do so. The indigenous had to be more circumspect, even before 1577: after 1521 all indigenous books and images could harbor memories of pre-Hispanic religion and idolatry, and to possess them could mark a recently converted Indian, a "new" Christian, as pagan, idolatrous, and, as a consequence, seditious.


Thus, to record their past, native patrons looked to the potentially secular genres, a distinction which Christian evangelization and European cultural attitudes had brought into being. Christian subjects of the Spanish king, they had to perceive their own past through different eyes and eventually to represent it in different forms, a process that would ultimately contribute to what Enrique Florescano has characterized as "disindigenization."


In about 1532, for example, the Spaniard Juan Cano made use of and transformed two iconic-script documents, almost certainly pre-Hispanic in origin, in his attempt to secure the patrimony and status of his wife, doña Isabel Tecuichpo Motecuhzoma, a daughter of the Aztec ruler Motecuhzoma II Xocoyotzin ("the younger"). Doña Isabel is today best known for her six marriages, including one to Cuauhtemoc, the Mexica ruler whom Cortés defeated in 1521; Cano was the sixth and last of doña Isabel's husbands, three of whom were Spanish. Although Juan Cano's and doña Isabel's two iconic-script documents have not survived, the alphabetic-script transliterations and Spanish translations of them penned in circa 1532 by an anonymous Franciscan friar, the Relaciones de Juan Cano (Juan Cano's reports), still exist.


No pre-Hispanic manuscript from the Valley of Mexico has survived. But the two Relaciones de Juan Cano—the Origen de los mexicanos and the Relación de la genealogía y linaje de los señores que han señoreado esta tierra de la Nueva España—are among the earliest extant histories of the Valley of Mexico's pre-Hispanic past, whether in alphabetic or iconic script. Both reports view and record the past from the perspective of Tenochtitlan, the altepetl of the Mexica people and the supreme capital of the Aztec Empire, over the charred and blood-stained ruins of which Cortés ordered the construction of the new colonial capital, the future Mexico City. The Relaciones de Juan Cano represent only one central Mexican historical tradition, that of the Mexica of Tenochtitlan, and, as a transliteration from iconic into alphabetic script in tandem with translation from Nahuatl into Spanish, only one of the forms in which memory, knowledge, and the written archive of the indigenous past informed and was informed by cultural, economic, political, and social relations in colonial New Spain.


A historical tradition different from but closely related to that of Tenochtitlan concerns Tetzcoco, in the eastern Valley of Mexico. Tetzcoco, the altepetl of the Acolhua people, was the second city of the Aztec Empire, in size, military might, political importance, and wealth. Later, and for much of the sixteenth century, Tetzcoco was New Spain's second-largest city and largest de jure if not de facto indigenous municipality. The Crown and its government considered New Spain to be composed of two distinct republics, the Spanish (the república de los españoles) and the indigenous (the república de los indios), in theory separate and each self-governing at the municipal level; needless to say, the actual situation was considerably more complex. Produced circa 1542-1546, the earliest extant Tetzcocan histories are in iconic script, "picture writing," and they manifest different forms of continuity and change from those exemplified by the Relaciones de Juan Cano. Several early-colonial iconic-script accounts of the pre-Hispanic past have survived from Tenochtitlan as well, for example, the Tira de la peregrinación (also known as the Codex Boturini) and the Codex Azcatitlan, but none is as extensive in its historical sweep as the transliterated and translated Relaciones de Juan Cano or the iconic-script Tetzcocan versions.


Many of the iconic-script histories from Tenochtitlan form part of larger bilingual manuscripts produced for Spanish patrons and audiences. Conceived and bound in European book format and often painted on European paper, these bilingual manuscripts expressly join indigenous, pre-Hispanic-style "picture writing" to alphabetic-script transliterations and translations into Spanish, frequently accompanied by explanatory annotations. To varying degrees, bilingual manuscripts also adapt indigenous archival and documentary genres and formats to European ones.


In contrast, in conception and design, the early-colonial iconic-script accounts of Tetzcoco's pre-Hispanic past—the Codex Xolotl (Plates 1-10), the Quinatzin Map (Plates 11-17), and the Tlohtzin Map (Plates 18-25)—neither transliterate iconic into alphabetic script nor ostensibly adapt indigenous to European genres and formats. Although other iconic-script manuscripts, most notably, the Codex en Cruz and the Tira de Tepechpan, include references to Tetzcoco's history, the Xolotl, Tlohtzin, and Quinatzin are the only three that focus on Tetzcoco and its royal dynasty: they compose the fundamental pictorial archive from which to reconstruct an Acolhua vision of the pre-Hispanic past.


The Codex Xolotl, the Quinatzin Map, and the Tlohtzin Map all document Acolhua territory, genealogy, and history. They appear to be drawn entirely from the symbolic and linguistic worlds of indigenous central Mexico, and they are thus different in form if not intent and effect from don Hernando Pimentel Nezahualcoyotzin's letters to Charles V, the coat of arms granted to don Hernando and the city of Tetzcoco, or the Relaciones de Juan Cano. Through their formal and narrative choices, the painters and patrons of the Tetzcocan histories identify themselves as aristocratic and indigenous, and thus as legitimate heirs to the patrimony left to them by pre-Hispanic rulers such as Nezahualpilli. But, to have currency in the república de los españoles—"the realms of titles and privilege (of continued nobility and status), of land, of goods, and of rights"—the Quinatzin, the Tlohtzin, and the Xolotl can only have figured the pre-Hispanic past from the "ladino" perspectives of men such as don Hernando and his son don Francisco. After 1521 Nezahualpilli's sons and grandsons needed to be or be seen as legitimate heirs—Indians—as well as loyal subjects of the Crown and good Catholics—Spanish.


History and Patrimony: The Children of Nezahualpilli


When Nezahualpilli died in 1515, two of his numerous sons, Coanacochtzin and Ixtlilxochitl, apparently vied to succeed him on the throne. According to some sixteenth-century accounts, Motecuhzoma II Xocoyotzin, the ruler of Tenochtitlan, intervened in the dynastic struggle and placed his nephew Cacama (Cacamatzin), the son of Nezahualpilli and Motecuhzoma's elder sister, on the throne. Ixtlilxochitl and Coanacochtzin were considered to be in the legitimate line of succession, but Cacama was not.


Coanacochtzin in the end allegedly supported Cacama, but Ixtlilxochitl rebelled and took control of the northern half of the Acolhua kingdom. From his provisional capital at Otompan (Otumba), Ixtlilxochitl fought against his half-brother Cacama in Tetzcoco and the emperor Motecuhzoma II Xocoyotzin in Tenochtitlan. As his grandfather Nezahualcoyotl had done before him when he confronted the Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco, Ixtlilxochitl secured the support of the eastern Nahua polity of Tlaxcala, an inveterate enemy of the Mexica of Tenochtitlan and, later, Cortés's staunchest indigenous ally. Ixtlilxochitl and Cacama eventually came to an understanding whereby the former would receive tribute from the northern half of the kingdom and the latter would retain the throne in Tetzcoco.


Ixtlilxochitl recognized his opportunity when Hernán Cortés and his Spaniards entered the Valley of Mexico: like his friends the Tlaxcalans, who accompanied the Spanish forces, Ixtlilxochitl allied himself with the new arrivals. Cacama likewise welcomed Cortés and his men into Tetzcoco, but later unsuccessfully attempted to play his new friend against his uncle Motecuhzoma and betrayed both. Cortés had Cacama brought to and imprisoned in Tenochtitlan, and on Motecuhzoma's advice appointed another of Nezahualpilli's sons, Cuizcuitzcatl, as ruler. When Cuizcuitzcatl arrived in Tetzcoco, his half-brother Coanacochtzin, Cacama's old ally, had him put to death. Coanacochtzin, who succeeded as ruler, sided with the Mexica under the leadership of Cuitlahuac, and, after Cuitlahuac's death from smallpox, of Cuauhtemoc, against the Spanish and their indigenous allies, while his brother Ixtlilxochitl supported Cortés. Between the Spaniards' disastrous flight from Tenochtitlan on the Noche Triste, or Sad Night, 30 June 1520, in the course of which the captive Cacama died, and their final victory over the Aztecs on 13 August 1521, Ixtlilxochitl made his services and the Tetzcocan resources that he controlled available to them. When Cuauhtemoc was captured at Tlatelolco on that fateful August day, Coanacochtzin was with him, as was Tetepanquetzatzin, the ruler of Tlacopan, for they, too, had fought against the Spanish and their indigenous allies until the bitter end. After their defeat, Cortés permitted Cuauhtemoc, Coanacochtzin, and Tetepanquetzatzin to retain office as the nominal rulers of the three imperial Aztec cities of the Triple Alliance: Tenochtitlan, Tetzcoco, and Tlacopan. Coanacochtzin was baptized a Christian, taking the name of Cortés's lieutenant Pedro de Alvarado.


Although don Pedro de Alvarado Coanacochtzin had the title of tlahtoani (plural tlahtoqueh), "he who speaks regularly," the Nahuatl term for the ruler of an altepetl, Ixtlilxochitl, now known as don Fernando Cortés Ixtlilxochitl, remained in control of northern Acolhuacan. Ignoring the indigenous word "tlahtoani," the Spaniards imported the Arawak term "cacique" (cacica is the feminine form), roughly, "chief," from the Caribbean islands to Mexico and applied it to the colonial-era descendants of pre-Hispanic ruling families, specifically, the ones who, like don Pedro, were heirs to the primary position in the family. Derived from cacique, the term "cacicazgo" refers to the inherited position or office and its perquisites, including patrimony in the form of land and tribute payments inalienable from the office. In his groundbreaking study, The Aztecs under Spanish Rule, Charles Gibson suggests that the decision on the part of the Spaniards to use the term "cacique" and its derivatives facilitated the social shifts in and among indigenous communities after the Conquest. Families and individuals without a claim to tlahtoani status and towns that were not altepemeh in the pre-Conquest era took advantage of the new terminology and the looser criteria it entailed to obtain the privileges of ruling families and fully independent communities.


In 1525, during an expedition to Honduras, Hernán Cortés received warnings of a rebellion among the Indian soldiers who formed the majority of his forces. Cuauhtemoc, don Pedro de Alvarado Coanacochtzin, and Tetepanquetzatzin, whom Cortés had brought along in order to prevent a native uprising in central Mexico, were alleged to have urged their compatriots to kill the Spaniards. Cortés had the three men put to death, and his ally don Fernando Cortés Ixtlilxochitl, also part of the Honduran expedition, succeeded the executed Coanacochtzin as cacique of Tetzcoco.


Don Fernando ruled until his death in 1531, leaving one daughter, doña Ana Cortés Ixtlilxochitl, who married don Francisco Verdugo Quetzalmamalitzin Huetzin, the cacique of Teotihuacan; doña Ana and don Francisco were the great-grandparents of don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl (circa 1578-1648), the mestizo historian who would devote himself to collecting, preserving, and, when necessary, re-creating the record of Tetzcoco's pre-Hispanic past.


Don Jorge Alvarado Yoyontzin, another of Nezahualpilli's sons, succeeded as cacique-governor of Tetzcoco, but died in 1534 after only one year in office. Don Pedro Tetlahuehuetzquititzin, don Jorge's brother, succeeded him. Don Pedro died in 1539, at which point don Pedro's half-brother don Carlos Ometochtzin Chichimecatecatl appears to have claimed the cacicazgo. Perhaps because he was thought to be outside the legitimate line of succession, or had too many enemies in an already contentious, factionalized family, don Carlos's relatives betrayed him as an apostate and a rebel to Juan de Zumárraga, the first bishop, later archbishop, of Mexico City, and, once tried and convicted, he died at the stake in 1539. At this point, the last of Nezahualpilli's sons to rule Tetzcoco, don Antonio Pimentel Tlahuiloltzin, succeeded as cacique-governor and continued in office until his death in 1545.


Charles V's and Philip II's correspondent, don Hernando Pimentel Nezahualcoyotzin, the son of don Pedro de Alvarado Coanacochtzin, one of those executed in Honduras, succeeded his uncle don Antonio and was the last of Nezahualpilli's descendants to be cacique and governor simultaneously. While the office of cacique remained hereditary and, ideally, passed from one generation of the direct descendants of pre-Hispanic rulers to the next, that of governor was increasingly, and eventually exclusively, in the viceregal gift, open even to those who by birth could not have succeeded to a cacicazgo. In separating the hereditary office from the actual, day-to-day, governance of indigenous municipalities, and municipal lands from the royal patrimony, the Crown and its colonial administrators sought to curtail the economic and political power of the indigenous aristocracy. Don Hernando's son don Francisco claimed the cacicazgo after his father's death, but met with opposition from the other potential heirs; he did, however, later serve as governor of Tetzcoco. Don Hernando's brother don Diego Tecocolchi (Tecocoltzin) Teutzquitzin (Pimentel?) apparently succeeded him as cacique in 1565 and ruled until 1577, after which date the succession is unclear until the early seventeenth century. In a 1627 land document, doña Juana Pimentel, then the cacica of Tetzcoco, states that she inherited the property in question from her father, a don Diego Pimentel, who may have been cacique at some point between 1579 and 1627.


In 1576 don Fernando Cortés Ixtlilxochitl's granddaughter doña Francisca Verdugo and her Spanish husband, Juan Grande, were in litigation against don Hernando Pimentel's son don Francisco, the man who the year before had petitioned the viceroy, don Martín Enríquez de Almansa, for the return of his sword and recognition of his noble status. Both doña Francisca and don Francisco were great-grandchildren of Nezahualpilli, and as grandchildren, respectively, of don Fernando Cortés Ixtlilxochitl and his brother don Pedro de Alvarado Coanacochtzin, found themselves contesting each other's claims to patrimony, as their grandfathers had before them. Don Francisco was closely allied with a mestizo cousin, Juan Bautista de Pomar, the author, in Spanish, of the 1582 Relación de Tezcoco, which formed part of one of the official relaciones geográficas (geographic reports) sent to Philip II from New Spain.


Pomar was the son of Nezahualpilli's "illegitimate" daughter, doña María Ixtlilxochitl, and her Spanish husband, Antonio de Pomar; because he was a mestizo descended from an illegitimate branch of the royal family, Pomar was not in the line of succession. After 1580 don Francisco and Pomar handled the financial affairs and land transactions of the Tetzcocan cacicazgo in order to save its properties from confiscation because of municipal tax arrears, for which the "palace" was held responsible.


Other members of the family under the leadership of a don Pedro de Alvarado sued in 1588 for the return of the monies collected by don Francisco and Pomar from the rental of patrimonial properties. This don Pedro de Alvarado was a grandson of Nezahualpilli, but how they are related is not known. He was not, it seems, descended from don Pedro de Alvarado Coanacochtzin, the grandfather of his adversary don Francisco. Don Pedro would have been a likely ally for doña Francisca Verdugo in Teotihuacan, as she, too, had sued don Francisco over the patrimony.


In these ever-more-frequent suits and countersuits between contentious heirs, as well as between native inhabitants and Spanish colonists, pre-Hispanic and pre-Hispanic-style indigenous pictorial genealogies, histories, and maps could, and often did, buttress litigants' claims. As Boone trenchantly observes, "[t]he Spanish authorities wanted ancient documents, and ancient meant pictorial." The symbolic if not always the legal power of community or dynastic manuscripts was beyond measure, for not only did they preserve pre-Hispanic history from oblivion but also, by means of that same history, justified economic and social privilege within the indigenous and the Spanish republics of New Spain. To possess pictorial histories was to possess the material legacy of the past and, for the indigenous aristocracy, the freedom if not always the linguistic and cultural wherewithal to move between the colony's two republics.


The creation, elaboration, interplay, and conflict of indigenous, or Indian, mestizo, and Spanish interests complicated the debates among Nezahualpilli's litigious heirs. In addition to descent in the line of succession, culture and ethnicity became touchstones of "indigenousness," and thereby of the legitimacy of one's claims on the cacicazgo. Because of conquest, colonization, and the ambivalent social experience and divided or multiple economic and political loyalties of the indigenous aristocracy, however, culture and ethnicity were fluid and provisional, not fixed and innate. It is in this complex colonial present, and not in an idealized, unsullied, and static pre-Hispanic past that we must place the iconic-script histories of Tetzcoco and its royal dynasty. Only a reading informed by this context can convey anything approaching the full richness and subtle meaning of these texts.


Writing and Painting History in Early Colonial Tetzcoco


In his Historia de la nación chichimeca (History of the Chichimec people) of circa 1625, Alva Ixtlilxochitl cites "the [historical] reports that the infantes [princes] of Tetzcoco, don Pablo, don Toribio, and don Hernando Pimentel [Nezahualcoyotzin], and Juan de Pomar, sons and grandsons of Nezahualpiltzintli, wrote." That don Hernando and his kin wrote historical reports in Spanish (the "ladino" texts to which Alva Ixtlilxochitl primarily refers) and petitioned the Crown from at least the early 1540s indicates that Tetzcoco's pre-Hispanic past was very much on the minds of Nezahualpilli's heirs in the period immediately following don Carlos's execution. This was the period in which the Codex Xolotl, the Quinatzin Map, and the Tlohtzin Map were painted. Don Carlos had allegedly advocated for ancestral custom: "Let us follow the ways our forebears had and followed, and in the way that they lived, let us live." His relatives likewise looked to the pre-Hispanic past, but they had to do so without arousing suspicion of apostasy or sedition.


To assume a direct connection between the various efforts on the part of Nezahualpilli's sons and grandsons to secure or control patrimony (at least after 1539) and the Codex Xolotl, the Quinatzin Map, and the Tlohtzin Map necessitates a reading of the manuscripts as something other than and supplementary to pre-Hispanic indigenous history conveyed in pre-Hispanic indigenous form and style. The patrons' and painters' perspectives on and representations of "time before" had to accommodate Catholic and Spanish sensibilities, especially when expressed in traditional and therefore potentially suspect forms, as in the case of the three iconic-script manuscripts. The present study seeks, first, to analyze the Xolotl's, the Quinatzin's, and the Tlohtzin's forms and messages, and, second, to investigate the concerns of the manuscripts' patrons as well as the ways in which they shaped such forms and messages.


Just as these manuscripts and their patrons and painters formed part of and shaped specific historical traditions and situations, so, too, does this study, which draws on art-historical, anthropological, historical, linguistic, and literary scholarship new and old. My critical analysis and readings of the pictorial narratives derive in part from long traditions of scholarly engagement with the pre-Hispanic past, but the broader conceptual framework as well as the perspective on early-colonial Mexico reflect more recent historical evaluations of and theoretical debates about colonial Latin America. In particular, this study considers how and to what extent Iberian colonization and all that it entailed affected the culture and experiences of Nezahualpilli's heirs. While throughout this book the notes acknowledge specific debts and sources, my general critical and theoretical stance is best made clear from the start.


My key theoretical assumption is that the manuscripts are to a greater or lesser degree colonial either in form, content, function, or reception, or in all of these. They cannot and should not be read or understood as if they had been painted before 1519, even were they shown to be "exact" copies of pre-Conquest documents. Such an assumption presupposes a distinction between pre-Hispanic and colonial indigenous cultures, experiences, perceptions, and societies, however mitigated by demonstrable and extensive continuities from the earlier to the later period. It is just this distinction that the following chapters will attempt to isolate and describe.


My second theoretical assumption is that, although the Quinatzin, Tlohtzin, and Xolotl are written in iconic script, "writing without words," they are nevertheless verbal texts and, as such, should be read according to the verbal system and textual traditions—the language and the literate culture—that shaped them. Although iconic script does not record words, at least not in the sense that an alphabetic script does, it is not outside of language. By this, I do not imply that iconic-script documents by necessity presuppose, parallel, and cue memorized oral texts. Rather, they can be written, read, and interpreted independently of such texts because they function as and are an expression of language, with all its ambiguities, complexities, and varieties of signification. While, as numerous scholars have argued, iconic-script documents may have served as aides-mémoires, they need not have. As texts, these documents can articulate and communicate meaning themselves rather than recall another and preexisting text, and they did so more and more after 1521 in response to new challenges and influences.


Even in the colonial period, iconic-script histories of the pre-Hispanic past are representations of that past rooted in fundamental indigenous conceptual and linguistic structures. A key to these structures is found in Nahuatl aristocratic speech in general and Nahuatl poetry in particular. In the early-seventeenth century, Alva Ixtlilxochitl, a native speaker of Nahuatl as well as Spanish, observed that "the paintings and characters that gave true meaning to the songs, which, because they are composed in an allegorical mode and adorned with metaphors and similes, are exceedingly difficult to understand." Nahuatl poetic and aristocratic speech prefers the figurative to the literal and works through metaphor and simile. What is neither directly depicted or seen nor explicitly stated or heard is what matters in this language. The texts, like their authors, if not all their intended audiences, are finely attuned to metaphor, parataxis, parallelism, and substitutions; and in order to read them, we must be, too.


Like Nahuatl poetry and courtly rhetoric, the Codex Xolotl, the Quinatzin Map, and the Tlohtzin Map can simultaneously craft explicit representations and metaphorical interpretations. Previous studies of these and most central Mexican iconic-script histories and manuscripts have focused on identifying and cataloguing their glyphic vocabulary or reading their explicit representations in order to reconstruct the pre-Hispanic past. The present study attempts to demonstrate how metaphor subtly qualifies these representations in the colonial present. Although I isolate what I consider to be figures of speech, ultimately, what I argue for is not a set of specific readings or interpretations, but a method of reading that recognizes the Xolotl, Tlohtzin, and Quinatzin as literary, specifically poetic, texts as much as historical records subject to verification.


Chapter 1 details the manuscripts' provenance, describes their physical form and state of preservation, and identifies their stylistic and typological affiliations. The manuscripts' provenance demonstrates their connection to Nezahualpilli's descendants and to the city of Tetzcoco, while their overall form, iconic-script content, and/or alphabetic-script annotations date two of them, the Quinatzin and the Tlohtzin, to circa 1542-1546. Stylistic analysis suggests that earlier conventional assumptions about what constitutes indigenous pictorial style may be skewed and that the painters and their patrons could and may have made a conscious choice to deploy a style that marks the manuscripts as indigenous and pre-Hispanic. Typological analysis identifies the Xolotl, the Tlohtzin, and the Quinatzin as cartographic histories, and as such, they picture land, genealogy, and narratives of the pre-Hispanic past, which themes will be taken up in Chapters 2 through 4. The painters have adapted the general type to address contemporary needs, especially in the case of the Quinatzin. Both typological adaptation and stylistic choice suggest an objectification of and a separation from the pre-Hispanic past and its traditions.


Chapter 2 focuses on land and investigates the manuscripts as examples of Mesoamerican cartography. After a brief survey of current scholarship on the depiction of space in central Mexican manuscript painting, pre-Hispanic and colonial, I analyze the cartographic form and content of the manuscripts. I consider the implications of the choice of places represented, the manner of representation, and the overall configuration with regard to four fundamental sites in Nahua histories: the origin place of the ethnic group; the altepetl or city; the regional state; and the cosmos. The analysis addresses two key conceptual and pictorial distinctions: first, that between a landscape and a map; and, second, that between an image and a sign. I argue for two levels of signification: the explicit representation of the terrestrial map, and the metaphoric evocations of the underlying cartographic structure. While the former conveys the physical scope of an Acolhua territory depicted in terms of purely human experience, the latter attributes to it a cosmic dimension and force.


Chapter 3 examines the Codex Xolotl, the Quinatzin Map, and the Tlohtzin Map as genealogies, specifically, dynastic genealogies. The chapter begins with a discussion of genealogy and genealogies in Mesoamerican art and culture, both before and after the Conquest, and then places the manuscripts within this broader tradition. An analysis of the form of the genealogies, which, like the underlying cartographic structure, is highly allusive, allows for a metaphoric reading of the Tetzcocan royal dynasty. At the level of metaphor, the genealogies evoke indigenous understandings of time, especially in terms of the 260-day ritual calendar and its alternating cycles of creation and destruction. By making a formal connection between the genealogies and the ritual calendar, the manuscripts correlate dynastic and divine creation.


Chapter 4 engages history and narrative, beginning with a brief consideration of the forms of historical narratives. A comparison of the Quinatzin, the Tlohtzin, and the Codex Xolotl shows that, while the Xolotl presents sustained, sequential narratives, the two shorter manuscripts write disjunct, episodic, and impressionistic ones: explicit as opposed to implicit or symbolic narratives. I analyze the manuscripts in light of this fundamental distinction, separating out narrative from description and then examining what messages they communicate and how. In each case, the manuscript's narrative form—explicit or implicit—or underlying narrative order—the sequencing of events or symbols—qualifies its historical content. Finally, I consider what the Xolotl's, Tlohtzin's, and Quinatzin's historical narratives, in their form and content, suggest about the understandings and uses of the pre-Hispanic past in Tetzcoco after 1539.


The Conclusion briefly summarizes the argument: the metaphorical articulation of history accommodates a colonial Acolhua self-identification and representation that operates in both the Nahua and the Spanish worlds. In the form of one unified utterance, the Codex Xolotl, the Quinatzin Map, and the Tlohtzin Map could and did communicate two very different messages, just as their aristocratic patrons and painters could be and experience two very different things at once. Patrons, painters, and manuscripts witness what Barbara Mundy has termed "double-consciousness": they "[work] to satisfy an immediate local audience and [labor] with a set of expectations about the colonizers." The manuscripts image pre-Conquest Tetzcocan experience in such a way that Indianness, a cultural and spiritual detriment in the eyes of the Spaniards, neither precludes access to civilization nor entails idolatry. For the literate indigenous viewer, who brought to them a different set of cultural assumptions and linguistic experiences, the Quinatzin, the Tlohtzin, and the Xolotl define the past in uniquely indigenous terms that evoke the forbidden "ways of the forebears." With an eye to both Nahua and Spanish concerns, these works document and justify the royal family's claims to land, political rights, and elite status by imaging a civilized, imperial, but insistently if only superficially nonidolatrous pre-Hispanic Tetzcoco.


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