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Painted Books and Indigenous Expression in Pre-Conquest and Early Colonial Mexico

Elizabeth H. Boone, Tulane University, Visiting Scholar 2005–2006, Fall

My research this fall was divided into two principal areas. One concerned the painted books of Aztec Mexico as examples of the graphic organization and communication of knowledge. The other looked into the early colonial period in Mexico to examine how indigenous art forms and ways of graphic expression continued within New Spain.

My work with the pictorial codices of Mexico focused on the divinatory and religious manuscripts, which record the invisible world of the sacred calendar as well as the cosmic forces and supernaturals that adhere to time. Building on an earlier oral presentation, I finished writing the essay, When Art Is Writing and Writing, Art, for the volume Dialogues in Art History (forthcoming from the National Gallery of Art). This essay addresses the manner in which the calendrical and prophetic information was structured graphically. In so doing, I looked comparatively at the presentational strategies of other forms of graphic communication, such as diagrams and lists used by peoples in the Western world today.

I then turned my attention to my next major project, which is to analyze the ways indigenous ways of thinking and creating continued during the colonial period in central Mexico. As this will be a multi-year venture, I only made a start. I wrote a short essay, Colonial Foundations: Points of Contact and Compatibility, for the exhibition of colonial Latin American art organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in which I argue that colonial culture was shaped largely by the points at which indigenous and Spanish culture seemed to overlap the most. I also continued to develop the bibliographic base for my study of early colonial Mexico.