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An Aztec History Painting in the Codex Mexicanus

Lori Boornazian Diel, Texas Christian University, Fellow 2016–2017, Fall

The goal of my fellowship was to complete my book on the Codex Mexicanus, a sixteenth-century Aztec pictorial manuscript with miscellaneous contents. I focused on the chapter devoted to the Mexicanus’s pictorial history. The history has three main sections: a migration account, an imperial history of Tenochtitlan, and a history of the city’s transformation into Mexico City. Facsimiles of Aztec pictorial histories and alphabetic accounts of the Aztec past written by native, mestizo, and Spanish authors allowed me to compare the Mexicanus with other Aztec histories. These comparisons facilitated my reading of the Mexicanus, and through this reading, I showed that the pictorial history creates a moral narrative, its outcome the triumph of Christianity over Aztec Tenochtitlan. In this regard, the pictorial history fits a larger goal of the codex, which I argue was modeled after Spanish almanacs, called Reportorios de los tiempos. These communicate a Spanish identity tied to its ancient Roman past, suggesting a pagan, but illustrious, foundation for the modern Christian nation. The Codex Mexicanus fashions a corollary identity for Christian New Spain, built on its own pagan, but equally illustrious, Aztec foundation. My manuscript is now largely complete and will soon be submitted for review for publication.