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Stories in Red and Black

Stories in Red and Black

Elizabeth Hill Boone
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  • Book Info
    Stories in Red and Black
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79184-8
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Elizabeth Hill Boone
  4. 1 Configuring the Past
    (pp. 1-12)

    In December 1539, Don Baltasar, hereditary lord of indigenous Culhuacan, found himself under investigation by the Holy Office of the Inquisition; the charge was idolatry. The Inquisition was not old in Mexico; Bishop Juan de Zumárraga had instituted the Holy Office only two and a half years earlier, but the bishop was determined to root out the remaining pockets of native religious practice and to hunt down any idols that had not yet been found and destroyed. From the beginning, Zumárraga had been tracking the principal cult statues removed from the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan just before the Spaniards burned...

  5. 2 History and Historians
    (pp. 13-27)

    “History” is one of those common, comfortable words that pervades our thoughts, speech, and writing. We feel certain we understand its meaning and proper usage, and only if we are asked to define it might we hesitate; we would then be confronted with its fundamental ambiguity. One also reads it or says it in a specific context and is confident of its meaning, until the context expands or shifts even by a small degree; suddenly the history being read or said is something else entirely. History slides between a range of meanings, and it is this volatile quality, the ease...

  6. 3 Writing in Images
    (pp. 28-63)

    The Aztecs and Mixtecs never doubted that their books contained writing. Manuscript painting was simply their way of writing in books and on paper. It was the activity they knew as tlacuilolli in Nahuatl and tacu in Mixtec, the activity practiced by the scribe/painters, the historians, the day-keepers, and the sages.¹ It was the activity that fulfilled the written needs of the ancient Mexicans. It recorded the past, it preserved the prognosticatory guides that suggested the future, and it documented the many features of the present. The painted characters and figures that held memory and other forms of knowledge were...

  7. 4 Structures of History
    (pp. 64-86)

    Thus the Mexican painters had devised the pictorial conventions and visual elements that would allow them to tell about the past. Persons and places could be named glyphically or described through visual characterization. Time could be controlled by day dates and year dates and by symbols of duration. And events, those elements that are the core of any history, either could be signaled by brief pictorial convention or could be represented by a more detailed painting. The painters had the easy means to control the four essential elements of a history: the participants, locations, time, and events—the who, where,...

  8. 5 Mixtec Genealogical Histories
    (pp. 87-124)

    The Mixtec pictorial histories, and especially the res gestae screenfolds, document the histories of the Mixtec royal families, explaining how they came to rule their respective polities and how this rule was passed down through subsequent generations. The documents are more family histories than they are community histories. By far the greatest proportion of the information in the codices is genealogical in that it tracks the lines of biological descent of the rulers from the distant past (often beginning with a supernatural ancestor) to the “present” (roughly contemporaneous with the painting of the manuscript) or to some intermediate point. These...

  9. 6 Lienzos and Tiras from Oaxaca and Southern Puebla
    (pp. 125-161)

    Lienzos (or sheets) and tiras (or rolls) form a subset of the historical genre from Oaxaca and southern Puebla. They are clearly related to the genealogical histories painted by Mixtec artists on hide screenfolds, for they refer to some of the same places, they include some of the same actors and events, and they are historical expressions of people who share the same general culture. The protagonists in their stories have Mixtec calendrical and personal names, and the artists were generally working in the Mixtec painting style. Moreover, they function, like the screenfolds, to support the claims to land and...

  10. 7 Stories of Migration, Conquest, and Consolidation in the Central Valleys
    (pp. 162-196)

    The cartographic histories from the central valleys of Mexico and Puebla share many features of form, structure, and content with the lienzos from Oaxaca and southern Puebla. Like their counterparts to the southeast, they are founded on a broad cartographic presentation of land, sometimes delineated as a territory by a circuit of place signs. The histories join this spatial projection with a res gestae narrative that can lead up to the cartograph, can track through it, or can merge completely with it and thereby define it. One sees in these histories the union of a map with a sequence or...

  11. 8 Aztec Altepetl Annals
    (pp. 197-237)

    Time, so relatively unimportant for the cartographic histories, is the central and governing feature of annals histories. Time, as measured by a continuous and sequential count of the years, is the armature that supports the record of events. Events are painted beside the count, often tied specifically to the appropriate year with a line. Even the Nahuatl terms for annals focus on the element of time. Chimalpahin, whom James Lockhart calls the greatest annalist of the early colonial period, used the term xiuhpolhualli (year count, year relation), but the genre was also referred to as xiuhtlacuilolli (year writing) and (ce)xiuhamatl...

  12. 9 Histories with a Purpose
    (pp. 238-250)

    The Mexican pictorial histories are documents that call up and organize memory of the past. Their intent is to select from the innumerable days, people, things, places, and occurrences of previous times a relatively minute corpus of individuals and actions that have meaning for their creators and then to structure and shape these elements into a singular past that serves as the foundation for the present. Each document does this. Each painted history charts its own version of the past, whether or not it relies on other sources, and each constructs the past from the perspective of the present moment...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 251-266)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-284)
  15. Index
    (pp. 285-296)