Vi­a­jes Pin­torescos y Arque­ológi­cos

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Red

Khris­taan D. Vil­lela dis­cusses the Floren­tine Codex, an en­cy­clo­pe­dia of Mexico cre­ated about 1575-1577; a lec­ture on the sub­ject by Diana Ma­ga­loni Ker­pel takes place at the New Mexico History Mu­seum

One of the most un­der­stated trea­sures in the cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art, The Red That Col­ored the World, is the Floren­tine Codex. The book is opened to the pages that deal with the pro­duc­tion of the cochineal red pig­ment in Mexico, be­gin­ning with bugs crawl­ing on cac­tus pad­dles and end­ing with men paint­ing manuscripts with the color those bee­tles pro­duce. On Sun­day, June 21, scholar and Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art cu­ra­tor Diana Ma­ga­loni Ker­pel gives a talk at MoIFA en­ti­tled “Paint­ing the Floren­tine Codex,” in which she will present the re­sults of more than a decade of re­search on the man­u­script. Named af­ter the Ital­ian city where the man­u­script is housed in the Bi­b­lioteca Medicea Lau­ren­ziana, the Floren­tine Codex is an en­cy­clo­pe­dia of Mexico, writ­ten in par­al­lel col­umns of Span­ish and Nahu­atl, the lan­guage of the Aztec em­pire. It was cre­ated about 1575-1577 at the Real Cole­gio de Santa Cruz Tlatelolco, lo­cated roughly a mile north of the Zócalo, the heart of both an­cient and mod­ern Mexico City. The work was a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween up to two dozen na­tive Mex­i­can writ­ers, scribes, and artists, and on the Span­ish side, Fray Bernardino de Sa­hagún (1499-1590), a Fran­cis­can friar. Sa­hagún ar­rived in Mexico in 1529, just eight years af­ter Tenochti­t­lan, the Aztec im­pe­rial cap­i­tal, ca­pit­u­lated to the forces of Hernán Cortés and his army of about 100,000 na­tive Mex­i­can al­lies (en­e­mies of the Aztec). In the early years af­ter the con­quest, the Fran­cis­cans and other reg­u­lar clergy (Do­mini­cans, Au­gus­tini­ans, etc.) were tasked with con­vert­ing the pa­gan na­tives to Chris­tian­ity.

To do so, many of the fri­ars learned na­tive lan­guages, such as Nahu­atl, but also Otomi, Mix­tec, Zapotec, Yu­catec Maya, and many oth­ers. At the same time, the fri­ars and other Span­ish colo­nials in Mexico de­stroyed un­told quan­ti­ties of pre-Columbian ma­te­rial cul­ture, sculp­tures, books, tex­tiles, and ar­chi­tec­ture, be­cause they were be­lieved to be works of the devil. Un­for­tu­nately for us, even the Aztec books of med­i­cal knowl­edge were filled with im­ages of deities ab­hor­rent to Span­ish eyes. But amid this cul­tural geno­cide stood men like Sa­hagún, who clearly be­lieved that to con­vert the na­tives it was nec­es­sary to learn as much about their lives, cul­ture, re­li­gion, arts, and in­dus­tries, as they ex­isted be­fore the con­quest. Sa­hagún and his na­tive Mex­i­can team la­bored for more than 30 years to col­lect the in­for­ma­tion that would even­tu­ally be set down in the Floren­tine Codex. He em­ployed tech­niques still used by con­tem­po­rary an­thro­pol­o­gists, such as ques­tion­naires and in­ter­views. The work en­com­passes more than 2,000 pages of text, cov­er­ing top­ics as di­verse as the ori­gin of the uni­verse, the gods, cer­e­monies, sooth­say­ers, omens, rhetoric and moral phi­los­o­phy, kings and lords, mer­chants, the com­mon peo­ple, earthly things, and fi­nally, in book 12, the history of the con­quest of Mexico, told from the na­tive per­spec­tive. The text was com­posed in Nahu­atl and then trans­lated into Span­ish. Sources re­late that Sa­hagún’s team made at least two com­plete copies of the 12 books. He sent one to the Span­ish King Philip II in early 1578. That copy is lost.

Although there were al­ways those in colo­nial Mexico who dis­trusted Sa­hagún’s in­ter­est in na­tive cul­ture, and who felt he had “gone na­tive,” things were about to get more dif­fi­cult for our Fran­cis­can. Un­be­known to Sa­hagún, a year ear­lier, in 1577, the Span­ish In­qui­si­tion be­gan to en­force the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Vat­i­can’s Coun­cil of Trent, first con­vened in 1545 to ad­dress the men­ace of Protes­tantism. Among many other ac­tions, the In­qui­si­tion of­fi­cers halted all projects, like Sa­hagún’s, that in­volved the col­lec­tion of in­for­ma­tion about the pa­gan past of Amer­ica’s na­tive peo­ples. All such doc­u­ments were to be sent to Seville, and the Coun­cil of the Indies, the ul­ti­mate gov­ern­ing body over Spain’s

The Floren­tine Codex is an en­cy­clo­pe­dia of Mexico, writ­ten in par­al­lel col­umns of Span­ish and Nahu­atl, the lan­guage of the Aztec em­pire.

Amer­i­can colonies. The Floren­tine Codex was taken from Sa­hagún and car­ried to Spain in 1580 by his friend and pro­tec­tor Friar Ro­drigo de Se­quera. He never saw the man­u­script again, and never learned that Se­quera failed to de­liver it to the Coun­cil of Indies, where we imag­ine it might have been de­stroyed. Re­cent re­search by Lia Markey, pub­lished in the edited vol­ume Col­ors Be­tween Two Worlds: The Floren­tine Codex of Bernardino de Sa­hagún (Har­vard Univer­sity Cen­ter for Ital­ian Re­nais­sance Stud­ies, 2011), helps to il­lu­mi­nate how the codex trav­eled from Mexico City to Florence. Markey found a doc­u­ment writ­ten in 1587 by Car­di­nal Fer­nando de’ Medici’s li­brar­ian that men­tions the codex. The scion of the pow­er­ful Re­nais­sance mer­can­tile fam­ily, Fer­nando de’ Medici was a col­lec­tor of ob­jects from the Amer­i­cas, in­clud­ing the Floren­tine Codex. When he left the Vat­i­can hi­er­ar­chy in 1587 to be­come the Grand Duke of Tus­cany, he brought Sa­hagún’s work with him. And since that time, it has been housed at the Lau­ren­tian Li­brary, founded in the 1520s, and first opened to scholars in 1571 by Francesco’s fa­ther, Cosimo I de’ Medici.

The first books printed in the Amer­i­cas were pro­duced in Mexico City be­gin­ning in 1539, al­most a cen­tury be­fore Bri­tish set­tlers in Mas­sachusetts set the Bay Psalm Book to type. In the early years, the Mex­i­can im­prints were en­tirely re­li­gious in con­tent, such as the Doc­t­rina breve, writ­ten by Juan de Zumár­raga (1544), first arch­bishop of Mexico. In con­trast, the Floren­tine Codex is a hand­made ob­ject. Although we do not know the names of all of the na­tive Mex­i­cans who worked on the pro­ject, in book 2, Sa­hagún ac­knowl­edges the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the gram­mar­i­ans An­to­nio Va­le­ri­ano of Az­capotzalco, Alonso Vegerano of Cuauhti­t­lan, Martín Ja­co­bita of Tlatelolco, and Pe­dro de San Bue­naven­tura of Cuauhti­t­lan, all of whom he said could read and write Latin, Span­ish, and Nahu­atl; he also men­tioned the names of the scribes who copied the work: Diego de Grado and Boni­fa­cio Max­i­m­il­iano, both from Tlatelolco, and Ma­teo Sev­erino of Xochim­ilco. Diana Ma­ga­loni Ker­pel and oth­ers have also iden­ti­fied at least 20 dis­tinct artists who painted the 2,486 draw­ings in ink and col­ors that il­lus­trate the Floren­tine Codex.

With the paint­ings, we turn to Ma­ga­loni Ker­pel’s re­search. In sev­eral ar­ti­cles, the short book The Col­ors of the New World: Artists, Ma­te­ri­als, and the Cre­ation of the Floren­tine Codex (Getty Re­search In­sti­tute, LA, 2014), and in her es­say in the ex­hi­bi­tion cat­a­log, A Red Like No Other: How Cochineal Col­ored the World (Skira Riz­zoli and MoIFA, 2015), Ma­ga­loni Ker­pel ex­am­ines how the pig­ments used to cre­ate the im­ages in the codex evince a semi­otics of color char­ac­ter­is­tic of the its mo­ment of cre­ation. Artis­tic prac­tice by na­tive pain­ters in Mexico in the third quar­ter of the 16th cen­tury was a fas­ci­nat­ing hy­brid of pre-Columbian and Euro­pean styles and tech­niques. Ma­ga­loni Ker­pel fo­cuses on book 11 of the Floren­tine Codex, which was mod­eled on the an­cient Ro­man au­thor Pliny the El­der’s Nat­u­ralis his­to­ria (Nat­u­ral History). Book 11 de­scribes the nat­u­ral world and how the an­cient Mex­i­cans ex­ploited the earth’s re­sources. The sec­tion on color be­gins with nocheztli, the red de­rived from cochineal. In Nahu­atl, the term comes from the

words for prickly pear cac­tus (nochtli), and for blood (eztli), and lit­er­ally reads “prickly pear cac­tus blood,” an apt de­scrip­tor of cochineal dye. Sa­hagún’s na­tive in­for­mants di­vided the col­ors by whether they were de­rived from plant and an­i­mal sub­stances or from min­eral com­pounds. Thus cochineal red would be in a dif­fer­ent sec­tion of the na­tive tax­on­omy from hematite, cinnabar, and other min­eral reds.

When Ma­ga­loni Ker­pel and Piero Baglioni, at the Università di Firenze, an­a­lyzed color sam­ples from the codex, they dis­cov­ered that the na­tive artists used pig­ments de­rived from plants and an­i­mals, on the one hand, and from min­er­als, on the other, to pro­duce the same col­ors. The anal­y­sis also il­lu­mi­nated sig­nif­i­cant pat­terns gov­ern­ing how and where the artists used na­tive Mex­i­can col­ors ver­sus Euro­pean pig­ments, such as minium (red lead, or lead ox­ide). The col­ors were se­lected not for their tone, but for the com­plex chains of mean­ing they in­hab­ited, re­lat­ing to two over­ar­ch­ing con­cerns: 1.) whether the pig­ments were har­vested from be­neath the earth (min­er­als), with its as­so­ci­a­tions of dark­ness, cold, and wa­ter, or if they were de­rived from plants and an­i­mals, which lived above ground, and were as­so­ci­ated with the sun, light, and heat; and 2.) whether the pig­ments were na­tive Amer­i­can or Euro­pean. In the for­mer case, Ma­ga­loni Ker­pel and her col­leagues dis­cov­ered that ob­jects, places, peo­ple, and even deities that were as­so­ci­ated with the earth were painted with col­ors that were har­vested from be­neath the earth, and vice versa. In other words, there was an iden­tity be­tween that which was de­picted and the ma­te­ri­als used to ren­der the im­ages. In the same way, na­tive Mex­i­can pig­ments, es­pe­cially cinnabar (mer­cury sul­fate), were used in Floren­tine Codex, and in the Codex Reese (also in the ex­hi­bi­tion) to rep­re­sent an­cient time, be­fore the con­quest. Of course, cinnabar was also used in Euro­pean paint­ing, but in Mexico of the 16th cen­tury, to na­tive eyes, it harks back to the time be­fore the Span­ish. One ex­am­ple of how color func­tions in the Floren­tine Codex can be seen on Fo­lio 447v, from book 12, the na­tive Mex­i­can ac­count of the con­quest. The im­age shows the Span­ish dis­pos­ing of the bod­ies of the Aztec em­peror Moctezuma and that of Itzcuauhtzin, ruler of the city of Tlatelolco. As Ma­ga­loni Ker­pel ex­plains, the im­age is no­table for its color con­trast, with bright tones above and muted tones be­low. In the lower half of the im­age, the artist painted the dead Moctezuma in gray­ish tones, pro­duced with di­luted indigo. His headdress and that of his brother monarch are left un­painted. Else­where in the codex, im­ages of these men alive show their royal head­bands painted bright blue, a color as­so­ci­ated with the sky, heat, and the cen­ter of fire. In­stead, in this par­tic­u­lar im­age, the artist used the bril­liant undi­luted indigo blue to color the Spa­niard’s ar­mor, sig­ni­fy­ing that he and his kins­men were vic­to­ri­ous. Fifty years af­ter the con­quest, ev­ery­one knew that the Span­ish, and not Moctezuma’s Aztec peo­ple, claimed the fiery power of the sun.

Fray Bernardino de Sa­hagún and his na­tive Mex­i­can team la­bored for more than 30 years to col­lect the in­for­ma­tion that would even­tu­ally be set down in the Floren­tine Codex.

A con­tem­po­rary por­trait of Fray Bernardino de Sa­hagún (1499-1590) and one vol­ume of the codex; op­po­site page, il­lus­tra­tions from the Floren­tine Codex with im­ages of Aztec ar­ti­sans and rit­u­als, and the Span­ish in­va­sion of Mexico, in­clud­ing the death of Moctezuma

Omens, like this comet, were said to fore­tell the doom of the Aztec em­pire.

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