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  • The Search for the Codex Cardona: On the Trail of a Sixteenth-century Mexican Treasure
  • John F. Schwaller
The Search for the Codex Cardona: On the Trail of a Sixteenth-century Mexican Treasure. By Arnold J. Bauer. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. Pp. 181. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $74.95 cloth, $21.95 paper.

This book is a gripping tale of intrigue, contraband, covert operations, and a bit of conjecture. This work is not a standard volume of historical analysis but rather a story drawn from the authorr's personal experiences with a reputedly sixteenth-century illustrated manuscript. The story runs from the Crocker Lab on the campus of the University of California, Davis, to Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Seville, and New York City, with intimations of Peru and England thrown in for good measure. In many ways it is a tale that many Latin American historians might dream of writing, about a chance encounter with a manuscript, a colorful character, or a hidden archive, but few of us ever do it. Bauer has. [End Page 119]

In brief, Bauer encountered an illustrated manuscript reportedly from early colonial Mexico while it was being tested for authenticity at the University of California, Davis. The library at nearby Stanford was considering the purchase of the piece and had enlisted some of its own experts to determine its authenticity. The sale eventually fell through. Nonetheless, over the next few years Bauer remained fascinated with the piece, and it seemed to pop back up in his life. The book traces his at first haphazard encounters with the piece, followed by his systematic tracking of the manuscript, discussions with experts in the field, and travels to Mexico City, New York, Princeton, and elsewhere on the trail of the work.

The so-called Codex Cardona is a massive manuscript (nearly 500 pages) in the style of early colonial Mexican works, drawn and written on native amate paper. Supposedly it was commissioned by Alonzo de Cardona Villaviciosa, a member of the entourage of New Spain's first viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza. We are told it is in a style not unlike the very famous Codex Mendoza and the Codex Telleriano-Remensis. It contains hundreds of drawings and maps illustrating the history and situation of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco, including a massive map of the city, not dissimilar to the famous Santa Cruz map held in Uppsala. In spite of Bauer's best efforts to track it down, the manuscript is now lost or in hiding, and all that remains is his tale and some slides taken of several hundred of the leaves. In conclusion, Bauer, a specialist on colonial finance and Chile in particular, posits that this is in all likelihood an authentic early colonial illustrated manuscript from the sixteenth century, having also hypothesized that it might be a modern fraud perhaps even perpetrated by the very famous Robert H. Barlow.

Given that there are very few illustrated manuscripts from sixteenth-century Mexico, this would be an astounding find. The fact that it is on amate would make it unique, since all of the others were painted on European paper. Considering this, and other aspects of the work shared by Bauer, it seems to this reviewer that the work falls into the large family of colonial manuscripts known as Techialoyan, named after the locale of the most famous work of this genre. Techialoyan manuscripts date from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and are pieces created by native communities in support of what they believed to be their primordial rights, generally to land. Several of these are on amate in order to further heighten the sense of antiquity. As Donald Robertson (1959) pointed out in his groundbreaking study of Mexican painted manuscripts, the style of drawing of these later works is quite different from the older pieces. The newer works have figures that are depicted with roundness and are in poses other than the awkward profile so notable in early manuscripts. Based upon this typology, the Codex Cardona would fully fall into the later period. One other little detail seems crucial as well. The Virgin of Guadalupe is depicted at Tepeyac. Based on my experience with Mexican ecclesiastical...


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