Stephen A. Colston, Book Review Editor
Mexican Manuscript Painting of the Early Colonial Period: The Metropolitan Schools.
By Donald Robertson. Foreword by Elizabeth H. Boone. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994. Bibliography. Illustrations. Notes. Index. 234 pages. $29.50. Buy this book.
Since it was originally published by Yale University Press in 1959, Donald Robertson’s Mexican Manuscript Painting has become one of the standards by which all other Central Mexican native pictorial studies are judged. This book represents the earliest, most thoroughly researched overview of the wide-ranging corpus of pictorial manuscripts composed by Nahua (“Aztec”) artists during the sixteenth century.
Robertson created far more than a narrowly conceived art historical study. Rather, he analyzed these Nahua pictorials as artifacts within the cultural milieu in which they were created. What emerges, then, is not only an erudite discussion of the manuscripts’ many aesthetic elements, but a no less adroitly rendered interpretation of the cultural life of the Central Mexican natives as reflected in the pictorial art produced during the tumultuous eight decades following the Spanish Conquest. His commentaries on the various native schools of the early colonial pictorial art–those of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlatelolco–as well as on the major representative works of those schools (e.g., the Codices Mendoza, Telleriano-Remensis, Osuna, and Xolotl, and the Badianus de la Cruz Herbal) have long been basic reading for students of Mexico’s colonial native past.
Robertson’s scholarly work is further enhanced in this reprint by a foreword written by Elizabeth Hill Boone. Boone, who in 1995 assumed the Martha and Donald Robertson Chair in Latin American Art at Tulane University, provides a critical assessment of Robertson’s Mexican Manuscript Painting. Readers should find her accompanying notes, which include an extensive listing of recent pictorial scholarship, to be particularly useful. The University of Oklahoma Press is to be commended for reprinting Mexican Manuscript Painting, and for offering it at a price that should make it more accessible than previously to scholars, students, and avocational Mesoamericanists.
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