A guest post by Anna Espinola Lynn and Clare Hills-Nova
On 23 October, 2019, ARTES, together with the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, hosted a transdisciplinary session at the University’s Weston Library, focusing on Mesoamerican manuscripts. The event was designed to mark the 500th anniversary of the historic meeting between the Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) and the Aztec ruler Moctezuma the Younger (1466–1520), just outside Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), on 8 November 1519. Attendees included students, academics and representatives of other cultural institutions.
Attendance at this exclusive event was by invitation only. Would you like to take part in similar visits in the future? Join ARTES today!
The afternoon began in the Weston Library’s Visiting Scholars’ Centre. On view were the Selden Roll (MS. Arch. Selden. A. 72 (3)) alongside two modern books produced by Alfonso García Tellez, using the traditional, amate paper-based techniques evidenced by rare Pre-Hispanic codices and rolls.
The session began with Sir John Elliott’s essay on the Cortez-Moctezuma encounter before moving on to presentations by Giuseppe Marcocci (University of Oxford), Emily Floyd (UCL), and the Bodleian Libraries’ Head of Conservation, Virginia Lladó-Buisán.
Giuseppe followed Sir John’s paper with a consideration of the roles vision and visual culture took on in the encounter between the Spanish visitors and the Mexica. Turning to contemporary accounts of the encounter that emphasize vision, as well as representations of the imagined or real Other, Giuseppe pointed to visual asymmetries active in colonial contexts as they participated in relations of power.
Emily, meanwhile, provided a reading of the pre-colonial Selden Roll as it expressed the formation of a new cycle of rule in central Mexico. She discussed the multiplicity of ways the Roll can be read, and invited further conversation as to possible representations of time, succession, generation and regeneration. Regarding the name of the Selden Roll, Emily noted that this was associated with its colonial history of collecting more than with the Roll’s actual content, commenting that ‘The Roll of New Fire’ had recently been adopted as a more appropriate title for it.
Virginia followed up with insights into the processes and materials used in creating the Roll, drawing upon the results of recent research. Participants in this session had the unique pleasure of getting up close to the Selden Roll and asking those experts present questions about anything from shifts in hue or line quality, to contexts of production in pre-colonial and colonial environments, and on the multivalent symbolisms in the Roll.
Following a compelling period of conversation around and about the objects, the afternoon concluded with a visit to the Weston Library’s Talking Maps exhibition, where the Codex Mendoza (Bodleian Library MS. Arch. Selden. A. 1) was on display. Here, they were able to extend the conversation regarding the authorship, readership and linguistic referents of the pre-colonial Roll of New Fire versus the colonial era’s Mendoza Codex.
Images courtesy the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.