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The Paradise Garden Murals of Malinalco

The Paradise Garden Murals of Malinalco
Utopia and Empire in Sixteenth-Century Mexico

How the wall paintings at the Augustinian monastery of Malinalco promoted the political and religious agendas of the Spanish conquerors while preserving a record of pre-Columbian rituals and imagery.

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March 1993
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246 pages | 8 1/2 x 11 | 12 color and 138 b&w illus. |

The valley of Malinalco, Mexico, long renowned for its monolithic Aztec temples, is a microcosm of the historical changes that occurred in the centuries preceding and following the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. In particular, the garden frescoes uncovered in 1974 at the Augustinian monastery of Malinalco document the collision of the European search for Utopia with the reality of colonial life.

In this study, Jeanette F. Peterson examines the murals within the dual heritage of pre-Hispanic and European muralism to reveal how the wall paintings promoted the political and religious agendas of the Spanish conquerors while preserving a record of pre-Columbian rituals and imagery. She finds that the utopian themes portrayed at Malinalco and other Augustinian monasteries were integrated into a religious and political ideology that, in part, camouflaged the harsh realities of colonial policies toward the native population.

That the murals were ultimately whitewashed at the end of the sixteenth century suggests that the "spiritual conquest" failed. Peterson argues that the incorporation of native features ultimately worked to undermine the orthodoxy of the Christian message. She places the murals' imagery within the pre-Columbian tlacuilo (scribe-painter) tradition, traces a "Sahagún connection" between the Malinalco muralists and the native artists working at the Franciscan school of Tlatelolco, and explores mural painting as an artistic response to acculturation.

The book is beautifully illustrated with 137 black-and-white figures, including photographs and line drawings. For everyone interested in the encounter between European and Native American cultures, it will be essential reading.



  • Preface
  • Chapter One. Introduction
  • Chapter Two. Malinalco and the Augustinians
    • Conquest and Control of Malinalco
    • The Augustinian Program
    • Construction of the Monastery of Malinalco
  • Chapter Three. The Painters
    • European and Native Painting Styles
    • The Artistic Team and the Tlacuilo
    • Training of Native Artists
  • Chapter Four. The Sources
    • Pre-Hispanic and Spanish Mural Precedents
    • Illustrated Books and Graphics
    • Verdure and Armorial Tapestry
  • Chapter Five. The Imagery: Flora and Fauna
    • Flora Identified
    • Fauna Identified
    • Meaning of Flora and Fauna
  • Chapter Six. Paradise Converged
    • Gardens and Curing
    • Gardens as Cosmic Paradigms
    • Gardens as Paradise
  • Chapter Seven. Utopia and Imperial Policy
    • The New World as a Terrestrial Paradise
    • Patronage and Program
    • Mendicant Dominion and Heraldry in the Garden Murals
  • Chapter Eight. The Augustinian Mural Program
    • Public and Private Zones in the Monastery
    • The Malinalco Mural Program
    • Augustinian Eschatological Murals
  • Chapter Nine. Utopia Lost
    • Mendicant Decline
    • Whitewashing the Murals
  • Appendix A. Sixteenth-Century Mexican Monasteries Visited
  • Appendix B. Fifteenth- and Early Sixteenth-Century Murals in Spain
  • Appendix C. Flora in the Malinalco Garden Frescoes
  • Appendix D. Fauna in the Malinalco Garden Frescoes
  • Appendix E. Sixteenth-Century Mural Themes in Mexico and Primary Monastic Locations
  • Notes
  • References Cited
  • Index

“. . . a significant contribution to the field . . . . it reveals the religious and political functions of painting as a part of the colonizing program of Spain.”
François-Auguste de Montêquin, Professor and Chair of Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University


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