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.
Alfonso X ‘the Learned’ of Castile (1252–1284) was praised in his lifetime as a king who devoted himself to discovering all worldly and divine knowledge. He commissioned chronicles and law codes and composed poems to the Virgin Mary, he gathered together Jewish scholars to translate works of Arab astrology and astronomy, and he founded a university of Latin and Arabic studies at Seville. Moreover, according to his nephew Juan Manuel, Alfonso was careful to ensure that ‘he had leisure to look into things he wanted for himself’. The level of his personal involvement in this literary activity marks him out as an exceptional patron in any period. However, Alfonso’s relationship with the arts also had much in common with that of other thirteenth-century European royal patrons, among them his first cousin, Louis IX of France. Like his contemporaries, he relentlessly used literary works as a vehicle to promote his royal status and advance his claim to the imperial crown. His motivation for the foundation of the university at Seville was arguably political rather than educational, and instead of promoting institutional learning during his reign, Alfonso preferred to direct the messages about his kingship in the lavish manuscripts he patronized to a restricted, courtly audience. Yet such was the interest of the works he commissioned, that those who could obtain copies did so, even if these were still incomplete drafts. Three codices traditionally held to have been copied for Alfonso in fact show how this learning reserved for the few began to filter out beyond the Learned King’s immediate circle.
Kirstin Kennedy is a curator of metalwork (specializing in silver) at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. She previously held a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship at King’s College London, in the Department of Spanish and Spanish American Studies (2000–2003).
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My name is Pablo Ordás and I was granted an ARTES Coll & Cortés Travel Scholarship to conduct research in the UK. Thanks to this scholarship I was able to spend three weeks (22/10/2018–10/11/2018) at The British Library, researching Spanish manuscripts closely related to my previous PhD research, dedicated to ‘The Gothic Cloister in the Kingdom of León: Spaces, Destinies and Images’.
The British Library houses a small but very interesting collection of Spanish charters (Add Ch 24802–24815 & 24819) that date back from the reign of Alfonso IX of León (†1230) to a papal confirmation of Innocent VIII (†1492). Because of my previous research I was especially interested in the two confirmation of privileges granted by Alfonso XI, for different reasons: Add Ch 24805 preserves the lead seal of the king, something exceptional since most of the documents were stripped of their seals in the following centuries; Add Ch 24807 is a confirmation of previous privileges that were confirmed by the king’s father, Fernando IV (†1312) and that date back to his grandfather Sancho IV (†1295). Remarkably, the first 9 lines of the latter document are a series of intitulationes that describe the original documents. Another interesting aspect is that this charter was given during the tutorship of the infantes don Pedro and don Juan, Alfonso XI’s uncle that died in the Disaster of the Vega de Granada in 1319. The rarity of royal confirmations during the minority of age of the king and this first tutoría (1312–1319) make this document exceptional.
A real surprise came under the fold at the bottom of the parchment, where the name of Pedro Rendol is mentioned. Pedro Rendol is a somewhat obscure character that paid an important role in the rebellion of 1296 when infante don Juan el de Tarifa (†1319) and Alfonso de la Cerda (†1333) claimed the crowns of León and Castile respectively. Apparently don Juan was crowned at León, with the agreement of the clergy and the city council, thanks, among others, to Pedro Rendol. When the rebellion was suppressed and Fernando IV punished its most important leaders, Pedro Rendol’s possessions were confiscated but he managed to remain a relevant player in Castilian politics. His presence in this royal charter, next to his former patron infant don Juan, proves it.
Add Ch 28406 is the testament of Doña Blanca de Portugal, abbess of the monastery of Las Huelgas de Burgos. I was interested in the fragments of a wax pendant seal that are still attached to the silk threads hanging from the document. The condition of wax seals such as this is generally worse than that of lead seals. This example no exception: the seal is broken and only the upper half is preserved.
Finally, I was able to work with a very remarkable manuscript, the Primera Partida by king Alfonso X (Ms Add 20787). The miniatures of this manuscript have been barely studied and only a monography from the 1970s (Juan Antonio Arias Bonet, Alfonso X el Sabio: Primera Partida según el manuscrito Add. 20.787 del British Museum, Valladolid, 1975) is dedicated to this exceptional book. The volume is illuminated with 26 miniatures, from capital letters (7) to vignettes (19) that are used as visual representations of the following tituli.
The book is usually related to the same workshop that illuminated the most famous of Alfonso’s literary productions, the Cantigas de Santa María. However, some questions arise from a study of the manuscript’s miniatures: no traces of the Cantigas’ characteristic frames with royal arms are present in the British Library manuscript; illustrations related to the reigns of Alfonso X’ (1252–1284) and his son Sancho IV (1284–1295), always depict the the king beardless, something that would become common under the reigns of Fernando IV (1295–1312) and Alfonso XI (1312–1350). Could this be a later manuscript that follows the aesthetic path of the Cantigas? A deeper study should be undertaken in order to answer this question. So far we can only attest to the importance of the volume’s iconography and the close relationship between the miniatures and the text.
I am sure that these documents will make my research richer and I will be able to include this information in my future research. The charters related to Alfonso XI and Doña Blanca are of particular importance for the history of León cathedral.
To conclude, I am indebted to Dr. Tom Nickson from The Courtauld Institute for his support and guidance, and for organising the seminar Art, music and ceremony in Medieval Castile at Trinity College (Cambridge, 29/10/2018) while I was in the United Kingdom. Finally, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to ARTES and Coll & Cortés for their generous support, without which this stay would have been impossible.
Conference, exhibition and workshop
31 May – 2 June
Weston Library, University of Oxford
Display and discussion of the Bodleian Library’s five pre-Colonial and early Colonial Mexican manuscripts: Codex Selden, Codex Bodley, Codex Mendoza, Codex Laud and The Roll of the New Fire (or Selden Roll).
Presents recent findings on the making and historical significance of the Bodleian’s and other early, pictorial Mesoamerican manuscripts, situating them in the context of the pre-Columbian and colonial societies that produced them, describing the world they depict, and reflecting upon their meaning in contemporary Mexico and beyond.
More information (including Programme and Registration): Click here.
LAST MINUTE SPACES NOW AVAILABLE!
Myths of Medieval Spain. Symposium, Research Forum, Courtauld Institute of Art, 2-6.30, Weds 11 March 2015.
Attendance is free, but spaces are limited so you must register – NOW OPEN!
Four papers offer new ideas on a group of well-known sculptures and manuscripts from twelfth- and thirteenth-century Spain, exploring tensions between local and international concerns.
2: Introductory remarks, Tom Nickson (Courtauld Institute of Art)
2.10: Rose Walker (Courtauld Institute of Art)
Beatus manuscripts during the reign of Alfonso VIII of Castile and Leonor of England: a response to the fall of Jerusalem?
2.40: Rosa Rodríguez Porto (University of York)
Tvrpinus Domini gratia archiepiscopus: Notes on the Codex Calixtinus
3.10: James D’Emilio (University of South Florida)
The West Portals at Compostela and the Book of St. James: Artistic Eclecticism at a Cosmopolitan Shrine
Javier Martínez de Aguirre (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)
The voices and the echoes: Saint James, Gregory the Great and Diego Gelmírez in Santiago de Compostela’s Puerta de Platerías
6.30: drinks reception
On Wednesday 28th May, at 5.30pm, Dr Kirstin Kennedy (V&A) will give the Medieval Work in Progress Seminar in the Research Forum South Room of the Courtauld Institute of Art. Open to all.
Dr Kennedy’s talk is entitled ‘What Alfonso X’s works tell us about the dissemination of his manuscripts’