Codex Boturini [Copia Heliografica de la Tira de la Peregrnacion]
Publisher: Biblioteca Historiadores
Place: Mexico City
37pages with accordion pull out codex with 46, each two panels equals one of the original panels. Octavo (8 1/4" x 6"; codex 7 3/4" x 230") issued in stiff yellow boards and black lettering to spine and front label. Limited to 15 copies of which this is number 8. First edition.
The story of the conquest of Mexico by a small band of European soldiers of fortune is one of the most engaging sagas in human history, and, at least in its outlines, one of the best known to contemporary audiences. But the story of the Mexican rulers conquered by Cortez, the Mexica Aztecs, a tribe of nomads who had come from the northern deserts and within a few generations conquered nearly all the world known to them, is equally gripping, if not as famous. It is a tale of pilgrimage and omens, of lightning raids and ritual skirmishes, of stoic perseverance and uncanny luck, of defeat and near annihilation, of divine mandates and individual aberrations, of sudden reverses and desperate gambles against impossible odds, of shifting alliances and stunning spectacles, of palace intrigues and judicious marriages, of delicate compromise and stone- faced brinksmanship, of draconian protocol and whimsical chivalry, of carefully adjusted social organization and the forging of the largest and most flamboyant empire meso- America had seen. It is this story that the author of Codex Boturini set out to tell. How fully he could tell it we cannot know, because the manuscript ends in a rip in the middle of the twenty second page. We cannot even know whether he continued from this point or stopped his painting here. The empty space at the lower right of page 21 and the bottom of the surviving portion of page 22 suggest that some circumstance forced him to stop at this point, but it is also possible that he had artistic or symbolic reasons for leaving these spaces blank, and that more of the story was told on a portion of the manuscript that is now lost. In its present state, the manuscript tells of the origins of the Mexica on Aztlan island, their wanderings through central Mexico, and their defeat and humiliation at the hands of King Coxcoxtli. At the beginning of page 22, we see two Mexica, freed from their Colhuan captivity, with knives in their hands and nasty expressions on their faces, looking for revenge, perhaps with a sense of their destiny as future lords of their recent masters. The middle of the twenty second page is a poignant place for the manuscript to break off. As it now remains, the book is a strip of amatl (fig bark) paper approximately 19 cm tall and 549 cm long, folded accordion fashion into pages averaging about 24 cm across. Figures are drawn in black ink. Except for a reddish ink connecting dates, no color is used. The quality of line is similar to that of other Mexican manuscripts: it is fluid and supple, providing a precise frame for objects rendered. Dates are drawn in a neat and regular manner. Humans, place signs, and other symbols are drawn in a sort of simplified shorthand that might seem awkward if the figures were taken out of the overall design of the manuscript. Composition in most indigenous books is dense and crowded, suggesting the patterns of oriental rugs to some commentators. This is not the case with Codex Boturini. The scribe, as Donald Robertson has pointed out, leaves generous areas of open space, at times suggesting a spaceless landscape, an open field in which persons, dates, and place names can interact in freedom and solitude. Most of the pages of the book contain columns of dates, like those on pages 18, 19, and 20. The curved and rectangular shapes balance and play against each other in a wide range of designs, providing pleasing variety as well as carefully modulated rhythmic development. The scribe tends to present human figures in groups of four and five, primarily for the religious and cosmological significance of these numbers. He works well within this limitation, showing as much versatility in handling these clusters of four as in overall composition. The course of the Mexica is indicated by a path of footprints moving along with the narrative. This trail may seem childish or cute, but its significance goes deeper than may appear at first glance. The footprints help unify the design of the manuscript. In many Mexican books, and even in ceremonies and in architecture, footprints indicate the presence of an unseen god. These footprints, then, probably do not represent the impression left by the feet of the passing Mexica, but the path of their primary god, Huitzilopochtli. We may read them as the fate the Mexica must follow, or, to put it in the terms of other cultures, their Tao or their Wierd. The style of Codex Boturini is deceptively simple: though it shows none of the soul-wrenching force of Codex Borgia, or the serene mastery of Codex Vindobonensis, or the colorful grandeur of Codex Borbonicus, its artist was a master who deserves our respect. The provenience of the manuscript has provoked little debate. On the grounds of style and content, we can feel relatively sure that it was produced in or near Mexico City-Tenochtitlan. A number of scholars have assigned it a preconquest date, but cogent arguments have been advanced for an early colonial (c.1521 - c.1540) date of composition. Perhaps the best evidence for this is a tree on the third page which seems to show strong European influence, though such contamination apparently does not occur elsewhere in the codex. Few preconquest books have survived, though we know that large numbers of them were produced before the coming of the Spaniards. The Mexican people continued to make them for some time after the conquest, picking up more and more European techniques as time went by. Types of pre-Columbian manuscripts include religious books, histories, genealogies, books for determining suitable marriage partners and interpreting dreams, books used in divination and the practice of law, and a wide variety of bureaucratic documents including tribute lists, demographic surveys, and political dossiers. The system of writing was iconographic: it represented ideas by highly stylized pictures. Though some manuscripts employ forms of rebus writing, the iconographic system did not dictate a fixed sequence of words, as does our Roman alphabet, but rather a set of concepts that could be verbally formulated in a number of different ways. In fact, a book of this sort could be read by people who did not speak the language of the original scribe. This must have been particularly useful in the Valley of Mexico where many peoples speaking many different languages came together. And it is one of the reasons why an interpretation of the sort presented here can be understood by people whose Nahuatl vocabulary is limited to a few English loan words like "tomato" and "coyote" (from "tomatl" and "coyotl").
Text age darkened, front hinge cracked and separated, back hinge cracked, A good to very good copy of a very scarce item.
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