Master : Fabricating History: “The Codex Mendoza” and Manuscript Production during the Founding of New Spain


  • Rivas, Carlos Anilber
  • Black, Charlene Villasenor (dir.)


This thesis examines the historiography of the Codex Mendoza, one of the earliest surviving and most important manuscripts produced in Mexico after the conquest. In particular, I examine its provenance and evaluate its known documented history. How did this manuscript, produced in 1540 in Mexico by native artists and scribes, reach Europe and when? This reexamination highlights the absence of documentation supporting the widely-held belief that the Codex Mendoza reached France and not Spain, its intended destination, after the ship carrying it to Europe was plundered by pirates. After closely examining what is known of the manuscript’s provenance and suggesting a complete rethinking of what we know about the Codex Mendoza, this thesis demonstrates the interpretive side-effects of current assumptions about the manuscript’s provenance and dependence on out of date historiography. The Codex Mendoza‘s assumed patronage and believed-intended audience has conditioned art historians to interpret the artistic style of the manuscript as containing European influence. However, a close re-examination of the codex in relation to other manuscripts produced in New Spain at the same time demonstrates that the Codex Mendoza ‘s content and visual style is effectively all from the pre-conquest period and therefore radically different from most manuscripts produced at the time. Significantly, almost no comparisons exist in the literature on the topic making this comparison one of the first such contextual stylistic analyses of the Codex Mendoza. In addition, the methodologies employed by art historians in their study of the style of sixteenth-century manuscripts from New Spain have proved problematic, and in the case of the Codex Mendoza specifically, its believed European patronage has preconditioned interpretations of its artistic style. To address this problem I compare the Codex Mendoza with a contemporaneous manuscript of similar provenance. The comparison reveals that the existence and circulation of multiple visual styles and narrative strategies in manuscripts during the 1540s in New Spain was directly related to the intended purpose of the manuscript itself. This comparison also allows for the Codex Mendoza‘s proper placement within its art historical context and the broader context of manuscript production in New Spain.

The thesis begins with a close examination of the manuscript and the currently accepted history associated with it. I then trace the documentation concerning the origin of this believed history and challenge early historians’ assertions about the Codex Mendoza, which I will argue are fabrications intended to please seventeenth-century audiences. Having determined that we know nothing about the manuscript’s patronage, I end with a reexamination of the manuscript’s artistic style by contextualizing it with the Relación de Michoacán, a manuscript also from New Spain produced virtually at the same time.

Informations pratiques

Citer ce billet
Olivier Jacquot (2020, 19 décembre). Master : Fabricating History: “The Codex Mendoza” and Manuscript Production during the Founding of New Spain. Amoxcalli. Consulté le 19 avril 2024, à l’adresse

Olivier Jacquot

Chargé de collections : manuscrits des fonds américains, Service des manuscrits ORientaux (SOR), département des Manuscrits (MSS), Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF)

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