1519, the Arrival of Strangers: Indigenous Art and Voices following the Spanish Conquest of Mesoamerica

A Symposium in Homage to Miguel León-Portilla

October 3 - 4, 2019 10:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Getty Research Institute

October 5, 2019 10:00 a.m - 5:30 p.m Cal State LA

Image capture of Marina and Cortes from Codex Duran

This Mesoamerican Symposium in homage to Miguel León Portilla, organized by the Art History Society of California State University, Los Angeles and Getty Research Institute, promises to be spectacular.  It will take place on October 3 – 5 of 2019 in both locations. This year’s quincentennial of Hernán Cortés’s arrival in Mesoamerica provides an impetus to explore perspectives on the Spanish conquest of Mexico and the subsequent transcultural processes that played out in New Spain’s artistic production. The three-day symposium highlights the great cultural, historical, and artistic achievements of indigenous peoples of New Spain.


Tickets and Parking:

This is a free, three-day symposium, taking place at the Getty Center and California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA). Separate reservations are required for each day.

Free | Advance ticket required
Day 1: October 3, 2019, at Getty Center
Day 2: October 4, 2019, at Getty Center
Day 3: October 5, 2019, at California State University, Los Angeles


For additional information, please contact us at:

You can also access our offical webpage at: 





1519, the Arrival of Strangers: Indigenous Art and Voices 

following the Spanish Conquest of Mesoamerica

A Symposium in Homage to Miguel León-Portilla

Portrait of Miguel Leon-Portilla, the honoree

Our 2019 Mesoamerican Symposium, a three day event, titled 1519, the Arrival of Strangers: Indigenous Art and Voices following the Spanish Conquest of MesoamericaA Symposium in Homage to Miguel León-Portilla will take place on October 3- 4, 2019 at Getty Center and October 5, 2019 at California State University, Los Angeles.





Angelica Afanador - Pujol, SpeakerAngélica Afanador-Pujol, Arizona State University

Presentation: Conquest, Reason, and Cannibalism in the Relación de Michoacán (1539 - 1541) 

Abstract: Twenty years after the Spanish arrival to Michoacán, four indigenous artists worked with an anonymous Franciscan friar to produce the manuscript known as the Relación de Michoacán for the Spanish Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza. Among the 44 surviving images from the manuscript, one of them depicts a leader, soon to be conquered, cooking and feasting on the flesh of one of his deceased priests. Previous scholars have pointed out that many indigenous people throughout the Americas were labeled cannibals and forced to provide free labor. In this process, images of cannibals were mobilized at the service of economic interests.  They were a burgeoning genre among European artists at the time, but unprecedented among indigenous artists of Pre-Columbian times. This talk will explore the choices the indigenous painter made in copying and adapting this European model to meet the needs of the manuscript’s contributors. Through an iconographic analysis, it will explain how he transformed the European prototype to represent local concepts connecting food, reason, and conquest.


Manuel Aguilar-Moreno, California State University, Los Angeles

Presentation: TBA

Abstract: TBA


Berenice ALcantara Rojas, Speaker Berenice Alcántara Rojas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Presentation: Translating Book 12: Five Variations on the Same Text 

Abstract: The Nahuatl text that came to us in Book XII of the Florentine Codex, prepared by Sahagun and his Nahua collaborators, based on Tlatelolca testimonies about the fall of the two Mexico(s) the island contained: the Tenochca and the Tlatelolca, began to be an object of translation and rewriting from the same sixteenth century. Sahagun himself composed two versions in Spanish (c. 1570 and 1585), in which he not only translated the Nahuatl text but also eliminated passages and added new information. Later, in the 20th century, when the Florentine Codex became an object of academic interest, the story about the Conquest of Mexico from book XII was retranslated into Spanish by Garibay (1956) and translated into English by Anderson and Dibble (1953-1975) and James Lockhart (1993). In this presentation she will analyze the characteristics of each of these versions, taking into account the source text from which they start, to highlight the translation horizon of these authors and the types of representation they created on the Nahuatl text they translated and on the world of which this one gave account. In parallel, she will highlight some of the peculiarities of this Nahuatl text, to propose some guidelines for future translations.


Baltazar Brito Guadarrama, Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México

Presentation: TBA

Abstract: TBA


Yve ChavezYve Chavez, University of California, Santa Cruz

Presentation: Female Artists, Indigenous Knowledge, and the California Missions

Abstract: Situated on the northwestern periphery of New Spain, California Indians were entangled in the political, economic and social tensions of the Spanish empire and Mexican nation. Part of a larger project on Indigenous artistic agency during California’s Mission years (1769-1834), I present case studies of female artists and knowledge bearers who appropriated and subverted foreign ideas to meet their own needs and sustain pre-existing Indigenous knowledge. A reconsideration of basketry and related practices challenges the patriarchal Spanish attitudes that taint the perception of Indigenous gender roles within the missions and resituates women as strategic negotiators of the Spanish conquest.





Eduardo de la Cruz Cruz, speaker Eduardo de la Cruz Cruz, Instituto de Docencia e Investigación Etnológica de Zacatecas and Uniwersytet Warszawski

Presentation: Perspectivas y reflexiones de jóvenes indígenas en la conquista de México

Abstract: Se dice que la historia siempre la escriben los vencedores. En el caso de El Códice Florentino también conocido como Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, fue escrito primordialmente por intelectuales nahuas, aunque con influencias españolas. El Libro 12 en particular contiene relatos de la serie de eventos que culminaron con el colapso del Imperio Mexica, La Conquista. Existen publicaciones académicas que enfatizan la complejidad de este colapso recalcando la resistencia del Imperio Mexica y las alianzas cruciales entre varios grupos originarios y los españoles. A pesar de la disponibilidad de esta información, la Conquista de México en la educación primaria mexicana se enseña con un lente que describe al Imperio Mexica y otros grupos originarios como indefensos y su derrota total por parte de los españoles. Se podría decir que el sistema educativo mexicano proyecta una mentalidad de víctima y alimenta un odio contemporáneo hacia los españoles en la actual juventud. Este ensayo presenta las perspectivas y reflexiones de los jóvenes cursando la educación básica en la comunidad nahua de Chicontepec, Veracruz, con respecto a la conquista de México. Primero se les pidió a los jóvenes que compartieran sus conocimiento y perspectiva de la conquista de México, luego se les presentaron pasajes claves del libro 12 del Códice Florentino escritos en la variante moderna de la Huasteca Veracruzana, y finalmente se les pidió que reflexionaran sobre sus concepciones previas de los acontecimientos históricos ya con conocimiento de lo escrito por intelectuales nahuas sobre la conquista. El presente ensayo ejemplifica la importancia de asegurar la accesibilidad de documentos antiguos escritos en náhuatl, principalmente los códices, a las actuales comunidades nahua hablantes con traducción a su correspondiente variante de náhuatl.


Kristopher Driggers, SpeakerKristopher Driggers, Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block

Presentation: The Conquest Narratives in Sahagún and Durán: Authorship, History, and Identity Politics

AbstractThis paper examines how manuscript images contribute distinctively to the construction of histories of the conquest in Book 12 of the Florentine Codex and the Historia of Fray Diego Durán. Working between 1575 and 1581, the Franciscan Bernardino de Sahagún and the Dominican Durán prepared histories of the conquest; in questions of authorship and ethnic loyalties, however, their works reflect different positionalities. The text of Book 12 is multi-authored, comprising the earliest (1555) Nahua transcription of the conquest and Sahagun’s translation. By contrast, Durán’s history of the conquest articulates the convictions and interpretive biases of a single author-compiler – albeit one with a complex relationship to indigeneity and the Christian legacy of the conquest. Each of these histories reveals that their image programs respond to the particular conditions under which each book was created, either elaborating or meaningfully diverging from their authors’ distinctive relationship to history and identity politics.

Two exemplary episodes demonstrate the role of images in constructing distinctive visions of the conquest. Toxcatl is a pivotal event in Book 12’s Nahua text, as Kevin Terraciano has noted (2011). Strategies for narrating and illuminating this event in each manuscript raise questions about Durán’s bicultural sensitivities and empathy with native perspectives, with a painting that devastatingly portrays Spanish infamy and breaks with the manuscript’s other illuminations depicting a heroic Cortés. Closing Duran’s Historia, paired images emphasizing the role of Cuauhtemoc further reveal the manuscript’s concerns and investments, while a complex program of repainting evinces how this treatise’s perspectives were edited or erased as the politics of history-writing evolved. Taken together, these representations allow us to observe the complicated interplay between textual authorship and visualization in constructing the conquest’s history.



Rebecca Dufendach, speakerRebecca Dufendach, Getty Research Institute

Presentation: “As if his heart died”: A Reinterpretation of Moteuczoma’s Cowardice in the Conquest History of the Florentine Codex

Abstract: The first encounters between Nahuas and Spaniards from 1519 to 1521 resulted in widespread deaths in the indigenous communities of central Mexico. Although the first recorded disease epidemic is often acknowledged as a factor in these losses, Moteuczoma receives much of the blame. Historians argue that Moteuczoma’s cowardice facilitated the defeat of his people. Instead, I argue that descriptions of the heart pain and fright that afflicted Moteuczoma and his people in Book XII of the Florentine Codex are references to long-standing cultural concepts of illness. This essay uses colonial and modern ethnographic sources to illuminate enduring Mesoamerican concepts of health and illness. My paper reveals how Nahuas remembered and understood the startling arrival of the Spaniards and the first disease epidemic during the invasion. The chaos and loss of life connected to the first epidemic in 1520 contributed significantly to the fall of Tenochtitlan.


Jeanette Favort Peterson, speakerJeanette Favrot Peterson, University of California, Santa Barbara

Presentation: European Models Transformed in Book 12: From the Old Testament to Olaus Magnus’s Historia

AbstractGiven their Europeanized style and iconography, the bountiful images in Book 12 of the Florentine Codex have been dismissed as decorative and derivative, somehow corrupted for their reliance on imported sources. The black and white paintings, in watercolor and pen and ink, were executed twenty years after the Nahuatl text of the Spanish conquest recorded in 1555. Nonetheless, the 161 images capture the graphic, often violent, immediacy of the eye-witness Nahuatl account. This paper traces certain of the European models that inspired the indigenous artists or tlacuiloque (scribe/painters) who selectively borrowed from the illustrated publications in the library of the Colegio de Santa Cruz, Santiago Tlatelolco. 

Many of the scenes that animate Book 12 are panoramic views of battles fiercely fought on land and water. These multi-figural compositions are based on biblical illustrations, in particular, the Old Testament, and on the encyclopedic History of the Northern Peoples by Olaus Magnus, the Swedish writer and Catholic ecclesiastic (1555, 1567). Six of its 22 books are dedicated to the arts of war and provide pictorial prototypes. In addition to these formal parallels, there are more conceptual and thematic analogies. An example is found in the tale of David and Goliath as echoed by the representation of the resistance fighter Tzilacatzin who alone, in the Nahuatl narrative, defeated the enemy and defended the honor of his community. Not surprisingly, the tlacuilo reverses the scale, inflating Tzilacatzin to loom large over the Spanish troops. European models were deployed strategically with inventive combinations and inversions of meanings. In resituating the paintings within a Nahua-Christian context, we can complicate a Eurocentric interpretation and foreground the intent of their indigenous makers.



Joshua Fitzgerald, speakerJoshua Fitzgerald, Getty Research Institute

Presentation: Caped Crusaders: Tlahuiztli Illuminations and Nahua Military History from the Estranged Calmecac

Abstract: To date, the History of the Spanish Conquest has only scratched the surface of Mesoamerican military education history and its transformations due Spanish pedagogies introduced in the sixteenth century. Before the 1520s, Nahua noble sons were the prime candidates for education in elite schools, the calmecac (“lineage house”), yearning for the status-defining tlahuiztli (the elite battle suits) and the preservation of ancestral military prowess. By the 1530s, however, the advent of European scholasticism saw Nahua youths entered a new learning program, the colonial pedagogy of the Colegio de Santa Cruz Tlatelolco (est. 1533). What educational practices did they confront in the colegios? Additionally, how did Nahua-Christians students investigate the indigenous military past? And how did new schooling help or hinder the propagation of calmecac knowledge at the time? This paper seeks answers to these questions by inquiring into a regional education history. It examines pre- and post-contact warrior culture with a focus on first-generation Nahua collegians and highlights indigenous learning modalities that appear to have been reproduced in the Florentine Codex and elsewhere, and I further my dissertation’s exploration of Nahua oral histories, visual and material discursive devices (i.e. war apparel, military technology, and tactics), and songs about military culture.


León García Garagarza, Getty Research Institute

Presentation: TBA

Abstract: TBA


Patrick Johansson, PresenterPatrick Johansson K., Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Presentation: The Conquest of Mexico in Nahua codices (1519 - 1521) 

Abstract: The early stages of the Conquest of Mexico, in 1519, have been referred in Spanish chronicles as well as in Indigenous oral testimonies alphabetically transcribed in manuscripts, thus providing the specific versions of the belligerents about what occurred and how it occurred. The vicissitudes of the Conquest were also painted in books (amoxtli), in a Nahua iconographic writing made of pictograms, ideograms, forms, colors, positions, sizes, and other paradigms semiologically pertinent. According to several sources, Motecuhzoma had sent Indigenous painters (tlahcuilo) to the coast, in order to graphically capture the strangers in a net of pictorial representations that might have a magic effect, and would allow him to make up his mind on what was to be done. These images made in a pre-Hispanic style are lost but a great number of codices, painted during the early colonial period, still remain and show how the Natives perceived some occurrences of the Conquest.  An iconological analysis of the pictography of various codices will reveal this Indigenous perception.


Ilona Katzew, presenter Ilona Katzew, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Presentation: Performing the Past: Moctezuma's Dance (Mitote) in Colonial Times

Abstract: This talk will address the reenactment of the so-called Moctezuma dance (or mitote) in colonial Mexico and its visual representations. Who performed the dance and within what contexts will be some of the questions addressed. The talk will focus primordially on LACMA’s folding screen of the subject.


Diana Magaloni Kerpel, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Presentation: TBA

Abstract: TBA

Oscar Mazin, PresenterÓscar Mazín Gómez, Colegio de México

Presentation: Christianization of New Spain in the Context of the Spanish Indies 

AbstractChristianity was the official religion of the Spanish Indies. However, numerous native religions existed along with it. Several solutions and proposals had to be taken into account to solve the complex problem of the Christianization of new societies. The symbols and meanings encompassed by religion should be approached as a cultural system thanks to which the Spanish Monarchy succeeded in "Catholicising" the New World. In the context of this process, I am especially interested in identifying New Spain's most remarkable traits and to compare them with Peru since the domains of Spanish America were not isolated from each other but constituted one set of Kingdoms.


Mary Miller, Getty Research Institute

Presentation: TBA

Abstract: TBA


Barbara Mundy, PresenterBarbara Mundy, Fordham University

Presentation: Lifestyles of rich Aztecs and famous Spaniards in Mexico City, 1520 - 1580 

AbstractAfter the Spanish-indigenous defeat of the Mexica of Tenochtitlan, the Spanish Conquistadors made the city--one of the largest in the world at the time--their new home. They occupied the great places of the Mexica nobility around the main plaza, or zócalo. The displaced Mexica elite, however, continued to be powerful figures in Mexico City. In this presentation, I will discuss how the elites of the city used architecture, urban design, and public performances to broadcast their importance to city residents.







Federico Navarrete, speakerFederico Navarrete, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Presentation: The Tlaxcalan Conquest

AbstractThis paper shall analyze the visual and written histories of the conquest of Mexico produced by the city-state of Tlaxcala in the 16th century, which are perhaps the earliest and most complete version of the events of 1519-1521 and beyond. It shall be Dr. Navarette’s contention that these highly elaborate narratives of the conquest are but a component of a larger tradition of cultural memory constructed also in Tlaxcala, which included ritual performances, public monuments, and cultural landscapes.

Dr. Navarrete will also demonstrate that the Tlaxcalan histories and memories of the conquest cannot be assimilated either to Spanish accounts, even though they strategically appropriate key elements of them, or to Mexica narratives, such as the one presented in the Códice Florentino, and even less to the “visions of the vanquished” as defined by 20th century Mexican historiography. Indeed they explode these categories to present a key but seldom acknowledged perspective, that of the Indigenous conquistadors. Dr. Navarrete will also argue that this particular vision was the most successful and influential version of the conquest during Colonial times, defining the Native conception of the conquest much more than Spanish or Mexica versions.



John Pohl, California State University, Los Angeles

Presentation: TBA

Abstract: TBA


Kim Richter, speakerKim N. Richter, Getty Research Institute

Presentation: The Roles of Nahua Women the Mesoamerican War and Conquest

Abstract: Whether heroes, villains, or vanquished, the main protagonists in war and conquest are typically men. In the case of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the story is no different. Historic narratives have centered on Hernán Cortés, Moteuczoma II, Pedro de Alvarado, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Cuauhtemoc, Charles V, and other men—with one exception: Malintzin/Malinche/Doña Marina, Cortés’s indigenous female interpreter. But what about the numerous other women directly involved or affected by this war? What roles did they play? Since these women were indigenous, it is not surprising that Spanish accounts provide scant evidence. Similarly, in Nahua culture, war was the domain of men, so Nahua accounts likewise focus on the accomplishment of men. However, a careful review of historical texts, both Spanish and Nahua, provide some information about Nahua women’s role in war, which are complemented by depictions of women in Nahua and Nahua-Spanish pictorial manuscripts, key among them Book 12 of the Florentine Codex. This presentation will highlight the varied roles of women in the context of war and conquest ranging from ominous visions, food providers, and collateral damage to slaves, informants, and rebels. Although many Nahua women suffered greatly during the various episodes of the conquest of Mexico, they also played critical roles in diplomacy and resistance.


Alessandra Russo, Columbia University, New York

Presentation: TBA

Abstract: TBA


Amara Solari, Pennsylvania State University

Presentation: TBA

Abstract: TBA


Lisa Sousa, speakerLisa Sousa, Occidental College

Presentation: When we collapsed: Nahua Views of the Consequences of Conquest

Abstract: This paper analyzes Nahuatl-language texts and images drawn by Nahua artists in Book 12 of the Florentine Codex that reveal indigenous views of the consequences of the Spanish conquest. In both written and pictorial texts, Nahuas emphasized the devastating realities of their “collapse,” including the destruction of Mexico Tenochtitlan, pillaging of material culture, displacement of the population, disease and epidemics, famine, enslavement of men and women, the collapse of political rule, and the imposition of tribute demands. Using philological, rhetorical, and visual analysis, the paper examines how Nahuas conceived of the consequences of defeat and portrayed their decline in moralistic terms. I argue that this account, written a generation or more after the conquest, reflects both social memories of the war and its aftermath and the realities of the challenges Nahuas faced at the time the texts and images were produced. This account provides an important corrective to the triumphalist narratives of Spanish histories, which rarely acknowledged the dire consequences of the conquest for indigenous peoples.


Mauricio Tenorio, University of Chicago

Presentation: TBA

Abstract: TBA


Kevin Terraciano, University of California, Los Angeles

Presentation: TBA

Abstract: This presentation examines four examples of how Indigenous writers and artists in central Mexico produced narratives that contradicted or undermined the dominant discourse of conquest established by European authors and artists from the late 15th century onward. These named and anonymous Indigenous people, not really known or appreciated until the second half of the 20th century, produced knowledge that has fundamentally changed how some historians understand the early period of contact and process of colonization in the Americas--an extended, ongoing process that has affected all indigenous people everywhere. I suspect that many Native Americans have known all along the differences between their histories and the histories written about them by outsiders. Rather than simply telling their sides of the story, some Native American accounts appear to contest the dominant narrative without referring to the sources that they contradict, or the local oral traditions to which they respond. I will examine the initial encounter and war in Mexico Tenochtitlan, events that are well documented from many different perspectives.  



Thank you for your interest and participation in our 7th Mesoamerican Symposium!