This new world now revealed: Hernán Cortés and the presentation of Mexico to Europe - PDF

This new world now revealed: Hernán Cortés and the presentation of Mexico to Europe ELIZABETH HILL BOONE Three years after Hernán Cortés affected the conquest of the Aztec empire and the destruction of

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This new world now revealed: Hernán Cortés and the presentation of Mexico to Europe ELIZABETH HILL BOONE Three years after Hernán Cortés affected the conquest of the Aztec empire and the destruction of the Mexica Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, a visualization of that great city at its peak was offered to the reading public of Europe. It was presented by means of a woodcut accompanying the 1524 publication of Cortés s second letter to the Hapsburg emperor Charles V, which reproduced a plan of Tenochtitlan, pictured as an island city surrounded by its lakes and, on the left, a map of the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico (figure 1). The plan of Tenochtitlan is well known: it has been analyzed from several perspectives and is often illustrated and invoked by those interested both in Aztec Mexico and in city plans in general; these scholars almost always ignore the map, however. 1 Likewise, the map has been attended to by cartographic historians interested in the early mapping of the Gulf of Mexico, but they, in turn, ignore the city plan. 2 The plan and the map appear together in the woodcut, however, which requires us to consider them thus within a single presentation and in the specific context of Cortés s letters to Charles that describe his remarkable exploits in Mexico. This article considers the plan and the map, together with the accompanying inscription, to achieve several goals. First, I hope to contribute to our understanding of the city plan as a document that describes Tenochtitlan before its destruction, when it was on the cusp of being secured for Charles. Then I turn to the coastal map to explain its special features and its origins within the circle of Cortés. The map and the plan were based on drawings sent from the Americas, likely separate documents sent at different times, but they complement and take meaning from each other through their union in the woodcut. Their features allow me to argue that the coastal map and the city plan are integrated components of a conscious strategy to present to Europe the vast extent and incredible riches of New Spain. It was a strategy that served two goals. One was to celebrate Charles V as an imperial Caesar whose realm had been greatly expanded by the addition of a new American empire. The accompanying inscription also articulates this position. The other goal was to aid Cortés s own ambitions to cement his control of central Mexico and to extend his authority to even more of the lands newly discovered. The woodcut advances arguments made in the text of the second letter to legitimize Cortés s actions by highlighting the great prize he was bringing to his emperor. The woodcut print was included as a foldout plate in the Latin translation of Cortés s second letter, Praeclara de Nova maris Oceani Hyspania Narratio..., published in Nuremberg in 1524 by Friedrich Peypus, a publisher known for his scientific and humanistic works. 3 Its full title, in translation, conveys the exciting flavor of the work: The splendid narrative of Ferdinand Cortes about the New Spain of the Ocean Sea, transmitted to the most sacred and invincible, always august Charles, Emperor of the Romans, King of the Spaniards, in the year of the Lord 1520; in which is contained many things worthy of knowledge and admiration about the excellent cities of their provinces... above all about the famous city of Temixtitan and its diverse wonders, which will wondrously please the reader. This second letter is usually bound with the fourth decade of Peter Martyr d Anghiera and sometimes also with the Latin translation of Cortés s third letter to Charles, which Peypus also issued that year. 4 The five letters sent from Mexico to Charles V between 1519 and 1526 have generally been acknowledged as self-serving discourses styled by Cortés to justify and legitimize his deeds in Mexico and to bolster his stature as a devoted servant of the Crown. 5 As Cortés s original mission was only to explore, trade, and rescue any survivors of previous explorations all under the auspices of Diego Velazquez, the governor of Cuba Cortés s break with Velazquez and his reconstitution as an independent agent of conquest and colonization freed him to report directly to Charles, but his actions also required Charles s forgiveness. 6 The letters are works of self-authorization, which downplay the previous explorations by Hernando de Cordova and Juan de Grijalva and blacken the reputation of Velazquez while presenting Cortés as the most loyal, and successful, of royal subjects. The second letter is particularly important in this respect because it describes the rich empire that Cortés acquired for Charles. It tells of the march into Tenochtitlan, describes the features of the marvelous and famed Aztec city, and suggests the vastness of Moctezuma s empire; crucially, it includes Moctezuma s speech to Cortés by which the Aztec emperor voluntarily surrendered his empire to Charles. 7 Although this second letter must also explain the Spaniards expulsion by the angry citizens of Tenochtitlan, the subsequent third letter recounts the siege and eventual conquest of the Aztec capital. Following Moctezuma s early speech of donation, however, all of Cortés s subsequent actions toward victory in Mexico WORD & IMAGE, VOL. 27, NO. 1, JANUARY-MARCH Word & Image ISSN # 2011 Taylor & Francis DOI: / Figure 1. Woodcut map and plan of Tenochtitlan, in Praeclara de Nova maris Oceani Hyspania Narratio (Nuremberg, F. Peypus, 1524). Courtesy of Edward E. Ayer Collection, The Newberry Library. are implicitly to recover the empire that was already rightfully Charles. The woodcut s responsibility was to present this empire in visually compelling and authoritative terms. It did so by picturing the splendid capital of Tenochtitlan and by suggesting Tenochtitlan s control of an immense territory. Plan of the Aztec capital The plan of the city of Tenochtitlan poses problems of interpretation and orientation (figure 2). The identities of some features have been contested, and its features are arranged according to two different orientations (one for the plan as a whole and another for the ritual precinct). There are also controversies about its authorship, for some see the plan as a European construction, whereas Barbara Mundy has argued for an indigenous creator. The fundamental question is how this plan with its particular set of features came to be. The plan represents Tenochtitlan graphically as a series of concentric circles, with a square in the center: an island city located in the center of a lake. The central square is the ritual precinct, the ideological heart of the Aztec empire and the focus of so much attention in Cortés s account. The city that embraces it extends outward as a circular concentration of buildings and pavements that barely rise above the lake that surrounds and intrudes between them; they are grouped into clusters by canals and joined by bridges. The lake itself is also roughly circular; broad causeways tie the city to the far shores. Framing the lake is a circular strip of verdant earth, a strip punctuated with mountains and cities and having its own encircling horizon. This final concentric strip encloses and qualifies the immediate environment of Tenochtitlan but offers no information about the territory beyond. The plan presents the natural and built environment of the Valley of Mexico in greatly conventionalized form. When compared with a modern map of the valley of Mexico as it is projected to have been in 1519 (figure 3), one notices first that the 1524 plan is oriented with the direction of west at the top. Although this goes against the European convention of locating east at the top, it is in accord with two indigenous maps from sixteenth-century Mexico: the 1550 map of the Valley of Mexico now in the Uppsala University Library (the so-called Santa Cruz map ) and the left, geographic, side of the Mapa 32 ELIZABETH HILL BOONE Figure 2. Detail of the plan of Tenochtitlan, in Praeclara de Nova maris Oceani Hyspania Narratio. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University. Sigüenza, both which locate west at the top. 8 The orientations of indigenous Mexican maps varied, although they usually followed an east west axis. 9 The Tenochtitlan plan offers a fairly accurate but conceptual projection of Tenochtitlan and its surroundings, not drawn to absolute scale but with the distant features pulled toward the center so as to be equidistant from that point. Of the three original lakes, Lake Xaltocan to the north and Lake Texcoco in the center have been compressed into a single body, and Lake Xochimilco in the south has been shrunk to a small appendage. It is a concentric projection of features of the Valley of Mexico. Included are the major features of the city and its environs as well as those of interest to the Spaniards or that attested to the character and privileges of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma. Starting at the top (in the west) and moving counterclockwise around the lake, one can identify the bosque of Chapultepec, depicted as a densely forested area, with the spring that famously provided freshwater to Tenochtitlan. 10 The artist traced the route of the stream from its source to the lake and then along the aqueduct that carried its waters straight into the city. The western orientation of the plan means that the waters flow down the page. Next to the left is the unnamed town of Tacubaya, with the Hapsburg 33 Within the lake the artist depicted and named a number of features. In the upper left (southwest), just below Tacubaya, a forest (probably a hunting preserve) and a pleasure house of Moctezuma are named. 13 Toward the bottom, on the eastern edge of the city, is a temple of worship. Further down, below (to the east of) the dike is an unnamed fortified island (Tepetzinco [Peñon de los Baños]). Tenochtitlan itself sits in the very center of the lake, dominated by its ritual precinct, where the four major roads converge. Among the monotony of conventionalized houses, the artist depicted a number of elaborate buildings and notable features around the precinct, but only a few that had special meaning for the Spaniards are named: there is the palace of Moctezuma (labeled Domus Don Muteczuma [House of Don Moctezuma]), the zoo (labeled Domus animalium [House of Animals]), which the Spaniards considered a great curiosity, and the great market of Tlatelolco (labeled simply Forum [plaza]). It is the precinct itself that is of greatest interest, for us as for the original audience, and the printer has chosen to focus on those features that were most striking to the Europeans (figure 4). The largest construction in the precinct is the Templo Mayor, here rendered as a great stepped pyramid with twin towers (or temples), each with its separate stairway, and between the temples the face of the sun. Anthony Aveni and Sharon Gibbs have shown that this is the sun rising at the equinox, 14 and an aspect of Aztec religious and astronomical ideology that a Nuremberg printer would not have invented. The Latin text labels this Templum ubi Sacrificant (Temple of Sacrifice). The printer also Figure 3. Map of the Valley of Mexico as it was in imperial flag flying above it. 11 Continuing south around the lake, the artist located the unnamed city of Coyoacan between mountainous terrain, then the short causeway leading to the town of Churubusco, where Lake Xochimilco (the small lake to the left) joined Lake Texcoco. Below this are the city of Ixtapalapan, here named, and then the mountains that border the lake in this area. Toward the bottom of the plan, in the eastern portion of the lake, is the dike built by the Texcocan ruler Nezahualcoyotl in the fifteenth century to separate the sweet water of the western and southern lakes from the brackish water in the east and north. Beyond the edge of the southern lake shore is an unnamed city (Chimalhuacan), and then on the horizon to the right is the city of Texcoco, which is named. On the right (north) side of the lake, causeways connect Tenochtitlan to the unnamed cities of Tepeyacac and Tenayuca. Toward the top (west), a final causeway leads toward Tacuba, which is also named. As Mundy has noted, the only cities the printer named outside Tenochtitlan are the two other Triple Alliance cities of Tacuba and Texcoco, plus Ixtapalapan, the last city through which Cortés passed as he rode into Tenochtitlan. 12 Figure 4. Detail of the ritual precinct of Tenochtitlan, in Praeclara de Nova maris Oceani Hyspania Narratio. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University. 34 ELIZABETH HILL BOONE included the little desert garden, three unnamed temples, and the low building on the left that is surely the House of the Eagles (dedicated to the military orders). He also included two tzompantli, or skull racks, representing them as great tall scaffolds of severed heads, the heads displayed with wild spiky hair. So as to leave no doubt about their identity, he labeled them both Capita sacrificatorum (sacrificed heads). The only sculpted image in the precinct, and an image that has often been misunderstood or simply ignored, is the headless human figure in the center. Seemingly unclothed, it stands on a platform, with outstretched arms, its hands holding long serpentine strips. Its pose is slightly to one side (not fully frontal or profile) and slightly contrapposto, with weight unequally distributed on the proper right leg; it is a pose that could almost be considered classical. The figure is ambiguously sexed: the lines bordering the lower stomach may refer to the stretch marks of women who have borne children (a common Aztec convention), and the profile outline of the upper torso may refer to a breast; on the other hand, there may be a penis between the legs. The figure is labeled Idol Lapideum (stone idol). Although it has been interpreted differently by others, 15 it is most likely to be either a version of one of the monolithic Coatlicue statues (figure 5) or, as Emily Umberger and Eduardo Matos Moctezuma have proposed, the statue of Coyolxauhqui (the defeated sister of the principal god Huitzilopochtli) that was located at the base of the stairs to the Huitzilopochtli temple (on the right side of the Templo Mayor) in 1520, a successor to the Coyolxauhqui relief found in 1978 (figure 6). 16 Its standing pose, decapitated state, and serpents grasped by the hands align it with the colossal Coatlicue statue that now exists intact, which is also decapitated and has blood serpents issuing from its wrists. 17 But the Coyolxauhqui is a likelier bet, for, as the quintessential defeated foe, she is represented unclothed, and the very essence of the Coyolxauhqui is her decapitation. 18 As represented in the great relief found at the base of the Templo Mayor stairs, Coyolxauhqui also has stretch marks on her stomach, is displayed in a pin-wheel pose that shares something of the animation of the stone idol, and wears around her loins a snake tied as a man s loincloth; in this respect she is gendered both male and female. 19 The headless state of the stone idol and the multiplicity of devilish heads on the skull racks in the center of Tenochtitlan are both being highlighted in the plan, for these would be aspects that would arouse the wonder of the European audience. Another curiosity about this rendering of the ritual precinct is that the printer, or the original artist, inverted or flipped the precinct, so that east, rather than west, is at the top. 20 This flipping effectively positions the buildings, and particularly the Templo Mayor, so it can be more clearly articulated for the viewer. We view the Templo Mayor as if we are standing in front of it. It is generally recognized that the woodblock print of the plan is the work of a Nuremberg woodcutter who Europeanized the features of the plan. 21 This is why many buildings are embellished with square and circular towers topped by domes or battlemented roofs and spires, and why Moctezuma s palace features an arch Figure 5. Statue of Coatlicue (Serpents her Skirt), andesite, 270 cm, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico. Courtesy of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico. over the central entrance from its courtyard. The architecture is rendered much like the architecture of European cities of the time, although the roofs of Tenochtitlan s houses are lower and flatter than those pictured in northern European views, probably because the originals were thatched. 22 In the hand-colored print owned by the Newberry Library, the roofs have been painted a tile red. The dike of Nezahualcoyotl, which was constructed of parallel stake-and-wattle walls filled in with stone and rubble, is visualized like a woven sapling fence, common in Europe (as seen in other German woodcuts). 23 The sun behind the twin towers of the Templo Mayor has a frontal face, and the stone idol has the corporeal plasticity of a classical statue. Additionally, the House of Animals holds, in addition to various birds and other creatures, two lions posed in passant as on heraldic shields, one facing left above another facing right. 35 Figure 6. Relief of Coyolxauhqui ( Painted with Bells ), andesite, 325 cm, Museo del Templo Mayor. Drawing by Emily Umberger. Although it is clear that the woodcut itself was produced by a European printmaker working in a well-established medium, Mundy has persuasively argued that the plan of Tenochtitlan is based on a prototype sent by Cortés from Mexico, and that this prototype was of indigenous authorship. 24 Cortés probably sent the plan with his second letter to Charles in 1520, for the conqueror refers to it in his third letter (1522) when he explains that a dike separated the salt water from the sweet as Your Majesty may have seen from the map of Temixtitan which I sent. 25 Mundy argues that the published woodcut plan could not have been entirely fabricated in Nuremberg because it contains specific features such as the dike, the source of the city s water, and the alignment of the Templo Mayor that could not have been derived from Cortés s second letter alone. 26 Other features that point to a Mexican source are the overall layout of the city, the specific features and layout of the ritual precinct, the identity of other places (such as Moctezuma s pleasure house), and the low roofs of the houses, which probably replicate thatch, rather than the steeper pitched roofs common to northern Europe. Although knowledge of the dike and the source of water could have been derived from the third letter, which had been published in Seville in 1522 and was being reissued in Latin translation in Nuremberg in 1524, many of the other features are mentioned in neither the second nor the third letter. This in itself still does not prove the prototype to be indigenous, because some of these features could well have been observed by a draftsman in the company of Cortés. During the eight months the Spaniards were residing in the city of Tenochtitlan, from 8 November 1519 to 1 July 1520, they surely saw the dike and were told about the source of the city s water. 27 They could easily have visited Moctezuma s island pleasure house and island forest when they accompanied the ruler about, and they would have gained a general sense of Tenochtitlan s immediate surrounds. It is also possible that they knew about the alignment of the Templo Mayor, for they could have been told about it or observed the sun rising between the twin temples near the vernal equinox around 21 March However, I agree with Mundy that an indigenous hand was at work on the prototype for the plan. It is highly unlikely that a Spanish draftsman would have specified the precise alignment of the Templo Mayor; certainly none of the conquerors mentioned the alignment. The Spaniards largely avoided the great temple, and its alignment would hold no significance for them.
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