Art Through Time: A Global View
History and Memory Art: Lienzo of Ihuitlan
In both the Pre-Columbian and colonial periods in Mesoamerica, historical documentation focused largely on images.
The lienzo, a Spanish word meaning linen or cotton, was the dominant form of historical record-keeping in southern Mexico during the sixteenth century in particular. This was created by a Mixtec community living in the Coixtlahuaca Valley in modern-day Oaxaca.
Like other lienzos, this work from Ihuitlan consists of a large woven textile with inked pictographs that combines genealogical and cartographic information with references to events from the mythic and more recent past. In this particular lienzo, the mapping element structures the rest. Around the edges of the lienzo and in the center are the indigenous place signs for towns and kingdoms in the valley. Each place is accompanied by its name in the Nahuatl language and most by a representation of the ruling couples. In the middle of the lienzo, there are several lists of rulers, each connected to a specific place. Footprints between rulers reference the intermarriages and relations that connect the kingdoms of the valley to one another and to the larger region. Included in the information bounded by the lienzo’s bordering towns are dates. These likely refer to foundational and other significant historical events, including perhaps the conquest of the Coixtlahuaca Valley by the Aztecs.
The focus on specific sites linked together through genealogical ties suggests that the prevailing function of the lienzo was to assert the claims by native rulers of relatively small kingdoms to their land. Significantly, Santiago Ihuitlan Plumas, the place from which the lienzo takes its name, is marked not only by its native sign, but also by a church. It is the only one of the places on the lienzo to bear a reference to Christianity, thus hinting at another function of the lienzo, the definition of individual community identity.
Boone, Elizabeth Hill. Stories in Red and Black: Pictorial Histories of the Aztecs and Miztecs. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.
Fane, Diana, ed. Converging Cultures: Art and Identity in Spanish America.New York: Brooklyn Museum in association with the Phoenix Art Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1996.
Florescano, Enrique. Memory, Myth, and Time in Mexico. Translated by Albert G. Bork with Kathryn R. Bork. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.
Pasztory, Esther. Pre-Columbian Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
“Lienzo of Ihuitlan.” In Collections: Art of the Americas. Brooklyn Museum Web site. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/collections.