Highlights from the Online Exhibit

by doconversationsblog

This post is provided by Anne Marie Creighton, who joins us this year as a research fellow in the Dumbarton Oaks Library.

The online version of the exhibit on Pre-Columbian Processions I’ve been working on since I started here will go up early next week. At last! I’ll be glad when I get this project out into the world—and I’ll post again here as soon as it’s online. In the meantime, here are some highlights! These all come from our section on illustrations of procession; since location was important to processions, the exhibit also has two sections on their spatial context. Because some of those spaces have outlasted the processions that once passed through them, their design and archaeological history can help us understand their original use. Check back next week for more on that – for now, here are some of the illustrations of indigenous processions I like the best.


This page from a facsimile of the Codex Borbonicus, written around the time of the Spanish arrival in Mexico, shows a festival of the offering of flowers, also known as Miccaihuitontli, or “The Small Festival of the Dead.” The left side of the page shows wreaths of flowers and the three gods who were honored at this festival, and children dancing are depicted on the right side. Near the dancers, the page is glossed Fiesta de los niños a los tres dioses del agua, de la semilla y de la caña. Aquí no entraba mujer: “Festival of children to the three gods of water, of seeds, and of reeds. Women did not enter here.”

Ferdinand Anders et al., eds., Códice Borbónico, 1st ed., Códices Mexicanos 3 (Madrid: Sociedad Estatal Quinto Centenario; Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt;  Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1991). See commentary volume, 205–7.

This citation is for a transcription of the text. I found the original handwriting pretty hard to make out!

Codex Borbonicus, Bibliothèque de l’Assemblée Nationale, Paris Y 120): Vollständige Faksimile-Ausg. Des Codex im Originalformat. Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1974.


In this engraving of inhabitants of Florida, a woman and her attendants are going to meet the king she will marry. Because Mesoamerica and the Andes are usually better attested than the rest of the Pre-Columbian Americas, this image from a different region is both interesting and valuable. However, it was created by a European artist. It therefore has to be used with particular care, because European images of indigenous people often prioritized looks over accuracy. A common feature of European illustrations was to take a visual element from one indigenous culture and then falsely apply it to others. After taking a class with Thomas Cummins, I’m particularly suspicious of the litter here: the first European images of the Inca ruler are derived “from Hans Burgkmair’s 1508 woodcut Der Kvnig von Guizin (The king of Cochin)…based on Balthasar Springer’s account of his travels in India” (214-215). Two features these images had in common were that the kings in question were half-naked, wearing only loincloths, being carried on a litter. Is it just a coincidence that this engraving of a woman in Florida displays those same traits?

Bry, Theodor de. América 1590–1634. Edited by Gereon Sievernich, translated by Adán Kovacsics. Madrid: Ediciones Siruela, 1992.

Thomas B. F. Cummins, “The Indulgent Image: Prints in the New World,” in Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World, ed. Ilona Katzew (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2011), 200–23.

009580322_murua_pl_0098This painting from the Codex Murúa shows the “General procession of the ancient Indians.” The author’s description of the procession, on the facing page, remarks that the men went along “with much silence, without talking, . . . and then they said: ‘Let the Sun be a youth, let the Moon be a maiden, let the earth not be troubled, let there be much peace. Let the Inca live for many years . . . let him live well, and guard and govern us.’”

Murúa, Martín de. Códice Murúa: Historia y genealogía de los reyes Incas del Perú del padre mercenario Fray Martín de Murúa: Códice Galvin. Thesaurus Americae. Madrid: Testimonio Compañía Editorial, 2004.