Back to top

Portraying the Aztec Past

Portraying the Aztec Past
The Codices Boturini, Azcatitlan, and Aubin

Offering the first extended comparison of three closely related painted manuscripts from colonial Mexico, this book reveals how differences in their materials and composition show the evolution of the native pictorial tradition.

December 2018
212 pages | 8.5 x 11 | 22 color and 81 b&w photos, 1 b&w map |

During the period of Aztec expansion and empire (ca. 1325–1525), scribes of high social standing used a pictographic writing system to paint hundreds of manuscripts detailing myriad aspects of life, including historical, calendric, and religious information. Following the Spanish conquest, native and mestizo tlacuiloque (artist-scribes) of the sixteenth century continued to use pre-Hispanic pictorial writing systems to record information about native culture. Three of these manuscripts—Codex Boturini, Codex Azcatitlan, and Codex Aubin—document the origin and migration of the Mexica people, one of several indigenous groups often collectively referred to as “Aztec.”

In Portraying the Aztec Past, Angela Herren Rajagopalan offers a thorough study of these closely linked manuscripts, articulating their narrative and formal connections and examining differences in format, style, and communicative strategies. Through analyses that focus on the materials, stylistic traits, facture, and narrative qualities of the codices, she places these annals in their historical and social contexts. Her work adds to our understanding of the production and function of these manuscripts and explores how Mexica identity is presented and framed after the conquest.

  • List of Illustrations and Tables
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Introduction: Portraying the Aztec Past
  • Chapter 2. Codex Boturini: A Pictographic Paradigm
  • Chapter 3. Master and Apprentice: The Multiple Artistic Hands in Codex Azcatitlan
  • Chapter 4. Don Martín Ecatzin: Codex Azcatitlan’s Cosmic Hero
  • Chapter 5. Traitors, Intrigue, and the Cosmic Cycle in Codex Azcatitlan
  • Chapter 6. Codex Aubin and the Influence of Printed Books
  • Chapter 7. Conclusion: Central Mexican Manuscript Painting in Transition
  • Epilogue. Life after Production
  • Appendix 1. Translation of the Nahuatl Glosses in Codex Azcatitlan
  • Appendix 2. Translation of the Nahuatl Text in Codex Aubin
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Charlotte, North Carolina

Rajagopalan is an associate professor of art history at the University of North Carolina.


“Beyond offering insights into the authorship, contents, and intended audience of the three codices, we are made to appreciate the evolving indigenous response to outsider influences as well as the interethnic jockeying evident as they protected their prerogatives and legacies within a new colonial order. It is this broader window onto the cultural context that makes [Portraying the Aztec Past] a valuable resource for both lay readers and scholars interested in Latin American studies, including anthropologists, historians, and art historians, as well as students of manuscript and book cultures.”
H-Net Reviews, Latin America