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Painted books from Mexico : codices in UK collections and the world they represent

Author: Gordon Brotherston
Publisher: London : Published for the Trustees of the British Museum by British Museum Press, ©1995.
Edition/Format:   Print book : EnglishView all editions and formats
Summary:
The painted books of ancient Mexico constitute a particularly important chapter of world literature. The work of the tlacuilo, or scribes, goes back thousands of years before the Spanish Conquest; their exquisite manuscripts were written and drawn on native paper or skin and, later, on European paper. The vast majority of these codices were destroyed during the invasion; a precious few have survived.
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Details

Genre/Form: History
Document Type: Book
All Authors / Contributors: Gordon Brotherston
ISBN: 0714125199 9780714125190
OCLC Number: 34064113
Description: 224 pages : illustrations (some color), maps ; 26 cm
Contents: Ch. 1. The Books of Mesoamerica --
Ch. 2. Responses to Invasion --
Ch. 3. The Island Aztlan --
Ch. 4. Seven Caves and the Chichimec --
Ch. 5. The Mixtec Lineage Tree --
Ch. 6. Quetzalcoatl's Tula --
Ch. 7. Ritual Synthesis --
Ch. 8. Stating the Case.
Responsibility: Gordon Brotherston.

Abstract:

The painted books of ancient Mexico constitute a particularly important chapter of world literature. The work of the tlacuilo, or scribes, goes back thousands of years before the Spanish Conquest; their exquisite manuscripts were written and drawn on native paper or skin and, later, on European paper. The vast majority of these codices were destroyed during the invasion; a precious few have survived.

About twenty of the finest of these are in British collections and Professor Brotherston has undertaken a close study of them, comparing them with Mexican books in America and elsewhere.

Besides being beautiful works of art in their own right, the codices offer invaluable insights into the history, religion and legends of the ancient civilisations of Mesoamerica: the Olmec, Maya, Chichimec and Mexica (Aztec). The books meticulously record wars, conquests, dynastic disputes and the biographies of great rulers like the Mixtec king Eight Deer.

Complex ritual calendars give a framework for the religious observances of these peoples and offer testimony to their obsession with dates and record-keeping; maps record the spread of the Mexica, Chichimec and Mixtec across Mesoamerica. After the Conquest most of the 'pagan' books were burned, but the book-making tradition continued and retained many of the old forms and conventions. Post-Conquest legal documents, for example, give stark evidence of the rapacity and brutality of the invaders.

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