Competing Memories of The Conquest of Mexico

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The Collision of Two Cultures During the Mexico-Tenochtitlan Era

The author’s objectives in the essay Competing Memories of the Conquest of Mexico entail shedding light on the implications the collision of two cultures during the Mexico-Tenochtitlan era had on artists. In particular, the primary focus is on the pieces of art produced during the period when New Spain was founded. [1]The Nahuatl, Maya, Mixtec, and Zapotec people combined both painting and writing when making pictographic inscriptions on deerskin, ceramics, cloth, and fig-bark paper among others. For this reason, the accounts created using the pieces of art play a significant role in explaining the conquest of Mexico. Moreover, the texts used in the essay show how the painters managed to keep a record of the events that occurred after the war. Unlike the Spanish and Creole accounts, those of the indigenous and the mestizo did not spread beyond boarders. The indigenous images were not displayed openly but in their unique way managed to explain the origin of the community. Besides, most of the images came out after the twentieth century. Hence, the representation of history can be in visual or textual forms but still manage to convey the viewpoints of the people during that period.

Distinguishing Characteristics of Indigenous, Spanish, and Mestizo Accounts

The indigenous, Spanish, and the mestizo accounts have distinctive characteristics when it comes to the accounts they kept. Concerning the mestizo accounts, there was the Florentine Codex which was a production of the collaboration between a Franciscan friar and a group of Nahua nobles. The codex had parallel columns that bore Spanish and Nahuatl-language text. However, apart from the Nahuatl-language used, there were also illustrations on the codex. The mestizo writers had a native mobility and therefore use their Spanish-language skills in keeping account of their memories. For the indigenous accounts, they did not take into account the temporal-historical framework. Therefore, their accounts lacked several bad occurrences before the arrival of the Spaniards. The indigenous writers used maps and colonial land titles. The primary reason for the use of maps was because they represented claims to landholdings. [2]Besides, the maps led to less reliance on paintings as more people became conversant with the alphabet. Lastly, unlike the mestizo and indigenous accounts, the Spanish accounts were controversial and depicted the interests of the Spaniards. The impact of writing contributed significantly to the sixteenth-century manuscripts. There was a replacement of images with some alphabetic texts and sketches. The multiplicity of memories necessitated the need for having indigenous image that also had texts. Despite the transition from the codex to maps and later manuscripts, the images from the codex exhibited the impacts of the epidemics during the period.

Indigenous and Mestizo Accounts from Different Perspectives

Terraciano specifies that the Indigenous accounts were presented in a manner to depict the views of the locals. In particular, they expressed their peaceful reception of Cortes and acceptance of Christianity. For this reason, the Indigenous accounts depicted a joint conquest they had when they partnered with Spaniards. On the other hand, the Indigenous accounts failed to bring out the battles they had with Spaniards as they did not want to reveal the losses they suffered. Concerning the mestizo accounts, their authors such as Fernando managed to translate codices and pictorial histories to alphabet owing to their knowledge of European language. Besides, they had embraced Christianity. It is important to note that the Mestizo portrayed a positive image of native elites. [3]Moreover, they mimicked the strategies commonly used by the Spanish and their literary genres. The primary reason for this was to enable them to win royal favor, appeal to the king, and use their legal system. Lastly, the Spanish accounts failed to address matters related to the conquest. Terraciano fails to explain why but it is apparent that most of the Spanish accounts were controversial. [4]Their primary focus was on redeeming the qualities of the conquest as it was a beneficial consequence of the war. Other Spanish accounts were ironic as they the Spanish-American empire to be dominated by greed and violence while pushing for Spanish and Creole interests.

Primary Accounts Examined by Terraciano

The primary account provided by Terraciano for the mestizo account is Descripcion de la ciudad y provincial de Tlaxcala (completed 1584) by Munoz Camargo. Concerning the Spanish perspectives, the author lists Historia verdadera de la Conquista which represents “true history” (completed 16320 by Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Lastly, Terraciano provides Istoria della Conquista del Messico (1699) by Solis.

The Significance of Illustration 51

On page 113, appears illustration 51 “Cortes orders the ships be sunk. Cortes eating with two of Moctezuma’s ambassadors at the port of Verecruz,” from the series of 24 panels of the Conquest of Mexico (Mexico 1698): 38 3/18 x 21 in (97 x 54 cm). Museo de America, Madrid. is an intriguing image in Terraciano’s essay as it highlights Solis accomplishments. In particular, Solis had achieved so much success as a playwright and at some point served as the chronicler of the Indies. The artists were inspired by Solis and the image they produced exhibited the Spanish and Creole interests during conquest that occurred in the late Seventeenth century. It is important to note that the painting identifies the events that are happening. Besides, there is a combination of two scenes that include eating with Moctezuma’s ambassadors and sinking of ships in the background. All the events occurred in Mexico City and depict an elite setting.

The Depiction of a Historic Meeting in Illustration 49

On page 110, appears illustration 49 “Cortes meets the loads of Tlaxcala,” from Diego Munoz Camargo’s Descripcion de la Ciudad y provincial de Tlaxcala (Mexico, 1581-84): 117/18 x 81/4 in. (29 x 21 cm). Special Collections Department, Glasgow University Library, Scotland. The image is interesting as it acts as an account for a historic meeting. It is important to note that the picture has symbols of baptism and illustrations of confederation and cooperation. The indigenous accounts by island people failed to link their illustrations with Christianity and the case was different mestizo accounts. Besides, most of the images portrayed by the mestizo viewed the conquest as a divine event guided by God and Saint James. Hence, the illustrations consider that God helped the Spaniards in winning over the Moors during the conquest.

Transfer of Power and Embracing of Spanish Inscriptions

From the knowledge I have gained from the seminar, a few mestizo artists and writers decided to corporate with the king when it came to Christianity matters. The question in mind is if native elites who declared allegiance received similar benefits that the Spanish heirs got? On the other hand, having the portraits on the wall, the balustrade, and chairs with European designs meant a transformation to a Spanish home. Therefore, does embracing the inscriptions, mostly on paintings, similar to those of the Spanish indicate transfer of power?


Terraciano, Kevin. “Competing Memories of the Conquest of Mexico,” in Ilona Katzew ed., Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World (Los Angeles: New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2011)

Restall, Matthew, and Kris Lane. Latin America in Colonial Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)

[1] Kevin Terraciano, “Competing Memories of the Conquest of Mexico,” in Ilona Katzew ed., Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World (Los Angeles: New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2011) 101.

[2] Ibid. 109


Terraciano, “Competing Memories,” 112.


3. Matthew Restall and Kris Lane, Latin America in Colonial Times

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 58.

November 13, 2023

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